As a paraplegic, the Christian poem “Footprints” no longer has the real connection with me that it once did. I remember how sand felt on the bottom of my feet and crunching my toes into the pebbly surf, but trying to materialize the sensation now has a painful twinge of reality that I won’t do that again that I don’t favor recollecting. My days of making footprints in the sand are no longer and I have peace with that. But I don’t want to try to pretend that I’m making metaphorical footprints anymore. Why can’t I make metaphorical rolling wheel prints with God instead?
The end of the poem (!Spoiler Alert!) is the beautiful realization that the footprints in the sand are instead God’s footprints and not your own, for He is carrying you in your struggles. This does still strike a chord with me, but not the same chord that it did before. For me to feel the sea, I usually require being carried. Some wonderful beaches, like in Barcelona, have wooden boardwalks on the beach that lead straight into the water or you can rent an amphibian chair that rolls over sand and floats in water. But otherwise, I’m being carried. To visualize being carried by God through my struggles now only resonates my own insecurities about my weaknesses, not giving me the feeling of security and relief that visualizing God carrying me once did. I feel weak when I read the poem, not from thankfulness of God’s love, but from reminders that it isn’t going to possible for me to be anything but carried.
I was praying in Starbucks, waiting for my phone to charge off the mooched wall outlet, when I remembered when I had felt the same resonating thankfulness for God’s glory as I once had when reading “Footprints”. I had traveled alone to Crete from Germany to meet my brother for a week of sibling connection. Crete was one of the hardest, most inaccessible places I had been in Europe and it was a rough week. The Greek people were apologetic for the lack of any accessibility on their island, but it was no fault of theirs. I left behind my expectation for a wheelchair-friendly world behind in the first summer of my accident and I have learned (painfully) to enjoy the world despite its’ inaccessibility.
In Crete I was carried down steep steps to the beach and my brother, a champ, made every effort to allow me to participate in any fun I wanted. Alongside the beach was a surf shack, operated by a Grecian-French young hippie with a beautiful spirit and an Abercrombie and Fitch smile.
This Scuba Steve passed by me while I sat on my chair lounger being far too preoccupied with taking too many Instagram shots.
“You like to s-vim?”, Scuba Steve asked. I had just been snorkeling, my suit and hair still wet.
“I love it! The water’s so clear, I’ve been able to see all these little fish.” I answered enthusiastically.
“Oh yes, da fishes are very nice. I have friend wif no legs,” he said, getting right to the point. ” He does da scuba wif me very nice. He does not need da legs to do da scuba. You can do da scuba too. You know, da scuba is very nice for da body.”
I didn’t need any more convincing. If it’s not already obvious from other posts, I tend to be a risk taker. Not on purpose, I just have a tendency to follow my heart over my head and it serves to give my poor husband heart palpitations from saving me from danger time and time again.
But this wasn’t so dangerous. He was , in fact, a licensed scuba instructor and had indeed “done da scuba” with amputees before. While spinal cord injuries are VERY VERY DIFFERENT from an amputation, there is a similar method for scuba diving.
My brother helped me pull on a wetsuit (with legs for paraplegics can get VERY cold in the water VERY fast. Eating before also helps to keep the body warm longer) and when we waded into the shallows, I was harnessed into my oxygen and mask. My tank sat snugly on my back and we practiced all the hand signals while getting used to the breathing apparatus. The plan of action was simple; while the group dove and swam, Scuba Steve would hold onto my vest to pull me and I would pull and kick to help propel me forward. With just holding onto me, he would still need me to do as much as I could swimming for us to move.
(Note: there are other methods for adaptive scuba diving. This is a very primitive method, but without fans or motors, this was the only possible maneuver)
We dove and I fell into another world. A silent, mesmerizing world where all anyone can do is observe, wonder, simply pass on by. We are simply guests in the underwater universe, watching communities, families, predator and prey interact and live undisturbed by the worries that plague the world above them. Underwater Crete doesn’t have the color of the Great Barrier Reef or the danger of piranhas, but still the word “beautiful” doesn’t encapsulate the scene like the word “tall” doesn’t describe the Matterhorn mountain of the Alps. How fortunate are we to be living in a world that contains another dimension of reality just beneath the water’s surface, free for us to roam and wonder.
If I hadn’t been so paranoid about forcibly inhaling and exhaling into my mask, the scene would’ve taken my breath away. I gave my little brother a thumbs up sign and then quickly waved my hands “no” since thumbs up means “go up” and replaced it with the “ok” sign. The only other diver in our group was experienced and started to drift further away from us, which was fine with Scuba Steve. He floated above me, one hand pulling me from the collar of my suit and the other doing lazy strokes to move us forward. He pointed out different fish and crustaceans to both of us, scratching his finger along the rock to disturb the sand in order to draw in the fish closer. I learned about myself that I like to touch everything I can and Scuba Steve learned that if he didn’t jerk me back every few minutes, my wandering hand was going to find the Fire Worms and crab claws.
The water’s tint changed from aquamarine to cobalt blue as we swam towards deeper water. It began to get colder and I could feel my energy starting to drain. There were too many fish to see how far we’d traveled clearly, but even if the view had been clear it’s often too difficult to gauge distance underwater accurately. Scuba Steve started to feel me begin to drag, I couldn’t keep up with my brother and Steve himself was having trouble pulling my quickly growing weight. He motioned to me that we were going to stop. The water of the Mediterranean is so clear that it made the bottom look 2 meters away when it fact it was closer to 7. We floated there, suspended in the water while my brother and the other diver swam further and further away. I couldn’t see the shore and I didn’t’ know how much further I could go. Then Scuba Steve untied a cord I hadn’t noticed that he had harnessed around his middle. He pulled me close and looped the cord around my waist, securing the belay hooks in front. He left a meter in between us and then secured the remaining cord around his own waist and tested the strength with a few yanks. Motioning to me that we were going to keep going, he put both hands on my shoulders and pushed me down below him. He took my hands and gently moved them through the water to my sides and rubbed his hands up and down my arms to warm me. And then moving the cord around my waist so that he could float above, he began to swim. The cord connecting us yanked on my waist and with my hands still by my side, I began to move forward without needing to help at all.
Scuba Steve towed me along for the rest of the cove, giving me the chance to see barracudas (my favorite), schools of fish so thick you couldn’t see through and my brother run away from an eel that turned out to be a very scared dogfish. I was able to keep diving because I was being carried through the water, allowing me to save what little energy I had left. Just when I thought I couldn’t go any further, Scuba Steve began to carry me the rest of the way.
This may not be the exact scenario of “Footprints”, but I like to think I know how it would feel if I ever got to go scuba diving with God himself.