The Sponge Diver

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.

Henry Ward Beecher

We all have a narrative, a unique story to tell.  As individual collections of life experience unfold, we see before us a dramatic self-portrait form, a picture based on the very peaks and valleys that make up life achievements as well as life challenges.   Often times we sit back and view the painting through a foggy lens, one cluttered with learned behavior, tradition, societal expectations we feel compelled to align with, and so on.  The question surfaces:  Is there really such a thing as an authentic self, a bona fide me?

Pure art.  I once read that every good painter paints what he is.  Every so often one is blessed to experience something that leaves you spellbound.  I honestly didn’t expect a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts with the boys over the summer to  render such a state, but this particular visit was so pure, so meaningful … I’ll never forget it.  While exploring the unique handprint illustrated on every piece that day at the museum, I felt an intimate connection, a momentous view into the heart and soul of each artist.  I envisioned their hands at work, powerfully expressing their life narrative, with the purposeful strokes of a paintbrush.  Taking in the world around us, we often find relatable links to our own lives through the canvas of creation’s powerful pull.  For me, words are my art medium …writing my paintbrush.   Though not nearly as beautiful as a masterpiece hanging on a wall, my words become an artistic expression of my heart.  When I’m silent, I’ve usually failed to claim the peace that comes from tapping into creation’s “voice” all around me.  Recently, my silence has stemmed from allowing exhaustion to dominate my narrative.

I just completed the next “installment” of cancer treatment—30 rounds of radiation therapy.   Similar to chemotherapy’s bittersweet end, my emotions took me off guard.  Suddenly my head began to buzz in a sea of rhetorical questions:   What now?  Will I have the strength to not let fear dominate my existence?  Will I fail at keeping hope close?   I guess you could say treatment in some ways becomes supplemental courage. The poisons of chemo, the removal of body parts via mastectomies, and the cancer-causing beams that make up radiation—all contribute to a (false) sense of security.  The truest test of faith comes when you have nothing else to rely on … but the very faith you entered this ride with.  The past couple of weeks I’ve had a weighty question tugging on my heart:  Who am I?  Have I allowed this “life circumstance” to take over the pre-cancer me?  Coco Chanel said it best:  Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.   

When I encountered The Sponge Diver by Winslow Homer that day in the museum, I became instantly gripped by its beauty and authenticity.  I envisioned myself there in the Bahamas, watching from a distance as a sponge diver emerged from a “naked dive” to the ocean floor, surfacing with his prize.  I thought of the rich history attached to sponge diving and the remarkable courage of early divers—always equipped with a readiness for sacrifice and a willingness to take risks.  In the old days when the skin diving method was used, divers went out to sea in a small boat, often using a glass bottomed object to search the ocean floor for sponges.   These authentic divers used simple methods … relying solely on their God-given bodies and their own natural breath-hold ability—historically performing at levels rarely attained by contemporary divers.   As time progressed, greed took over sponge diving and divers began using large, hard-hat diving gear to take on longer dives at deeper levels.  What resulted was a great deal of death and paralysis among divers.  The history of sponge divers shows us two faces of an empirical approach to life:  allowing the want for more to influence you, compromising everything; or staying focused on your God-given unique qualities that will not only get you the prize but without the compromise.  Fortunately, the beautiful centuries-old tradition Winslow Homer captured in his watercolor personified the original glory of sponge diving in its naked form.  Homer once said “You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors.”  I’d like to think he pondered the authenticity of the scene set before him while painting this masterpiece.

Thursday, I have my next visit with my medical oncologist and the plan is to begin Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen hormone therapy designed to stop the growth of cancer cells that may be present in the body, while blocking the effect of estrogen on these cells.  The plan is to have me on this for the next 10 years.

Isn’t it funny … as a child, we just want to be like everyone else.  As we get older, we desire to beat to our own rhythmic drum.  As we further mature, the connecting events of life further complicate our sense of self.  A diagnosis of cancer has made one thing crystal clear in my life:  I desire to be defined by nothing more than God created me to be.  My “now” plan is to be satisfied with my Creator’s design … the authentic, unique me.  It is only after taking off the dangerous diving gear of the world’s pull on us that we can find freedom like no other.

Nicole