Into the Deep


One of my kids was jumping up and down and pointing to some graceful dolphins dancing across the playground of the sea: "There they are! I can see them circling our boat!" We were in the blue-green waters off the island of Hawaii; everywhere around us, droplets of sunshine danced on the waves. The day before, my youngest child, Eli—who was seven at the time—had mingled with the captive brethren of these gentle sea giants in a safe inland lagoon at a resort hotel, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. My husband, Dan, the kids, and I decided to take our chances in the open ocean to see if the dolphins would welcome us into their playground. They did.

Being so close to such exuberant creatures brought a rush of pure exhilaration. My heart pounded as I let in their joy and playfulness. After several moments of frolicking, I saw that Dan had swum into the distance to follow some dolphins that were heading toward the horizon. I was about to take off after them when my attention was drawn to a golden beam of sunshine spiraling into the sea. I put my face into the water and saw dolphins circling directly beneath me, around the quivering ray of sun. "Wow!" I thought. "There's no need to push ahead. They are right here."

I laid my body upon the water and let go. Overhead I heard the joyous squeals of my kids back on the boat, laughing at the strange music and beautiful movements of these magical creatures. As the sea carried my rocking body into the waves' embrace, my eyes adjusted to the darkness below. Mesmerized by the moving vortex of light and focusing on its center, I found that I could follow the swaying thread into ever-greater depths. As far down as I could see, there were dolphins swimming in circles around the shimmering light.

With the front of my body held lovingly by the great water and my backside gently caressed by the sun, I let my mind rest on the muddle of darkness beneath the surface, the places I could not see. For most of my life, fear had gripped me when I approached the vast expanse of darkness within. Here in the safety of this cradle, I saw swimming below me sensitive and intelligent creatures that knew how to move gracefully without light. How could I learn that trick for myself?

What happens when we are really able to look straight into the deep helplessness of our unknowing? Two months earlier, Eli had been given the hopeless diagnosis of "inoperable brain tumor." With radiation therapy completed and no other forms of treatment available, there was nothing left to do but surrender into the moment and enjoy whatever time remained. I had entered a realm in which I felt myself to be infinitely small and yet greater than the circumstances of my life. In finding a connection to both the infinite light from above and the deepest places within, I had found the possibility to be fully present and alive.

That sense of presence was a guide to me during the completion of Eli's circle of days over the next 11 months, and it has carried me through the immeasurable void created by his absence these past two years. What I discovered in that moment with the dolphins, in that vortex of disappearing light, is that when I let myself go into the depths, I find in that quiet haze beneath the surface a strong center, a place of calm, where I can trust the unfolding of my life. In the unseen places, the ones that appear to be shrouded in darkness, exist the resources I need to make Eli's short life a golden blessing and his illness my greatest teacher.

Lillian Lehrburger practices meditation, arbitration, painting, and yoga in Denver.