Have you ever watched a movie that inspired such vivid recollections of traumatic moments in your own life that your body recoiled, but you couldn't turn away? During one of our final evenings at home before departing for Panama, Cristina, Buzo, Pingo, and I settled in to watch one such film: a documentary titled "Last Breath" that recounts the extreme risks saturation divers face as they endure thousand-foot immersions in the furious waters of the frigid North Sea.
Without spoiling the film, I will share that one diver suffers a catastrophic incident and must be abandoned deep below the surface. Alive but alone, disconnected from the mother vessel, and with only twenty minutes of air remaining, he waits for death in the pitch black, icy cold waters at the bottom of the ocean. I held my breath through much of the scene in solidarity with this downed diver. As someone who has explored flooded caves, traversed miles below several feet of solid sea ice, and journeyed to extreme depths, I was acutely aware of the desperation he must have felt. In fact, many of the divers I have worked with, including my favorite dive buddy, Cristina, have experienced a dive gone wrong. Our human bodies are fragile, and when routine turns to chaos, survival very much hangs on the balance of whatever training, ability to remain calm, and determination to live you can muster.
This article is not about what it takes to achieve competency during the most stressful moments of your life, however. Instead, I want to share what I believe was the film's most important takeaway: that survival in difficult situations depends as much on our own will to live as it does on the refusal of others to abandon us. It occurred to me that we are experiencing a parallel situation in the current moment here above the surface. As global consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and human-made climate crisis tempt us to capitulate to our worst instincts, we must choose whether to stand with each other or leave the vulnerable behind.
I am an optimist at heart and believe humanity will rise to the occasion, but I sense that the prevailing feelings for many around me are despair, apathy, and anger. That is not surprising – the depressing daily news with which media outlets bombard us makes it difficult to stay cheery and positive. I am no exception. On some mornings, it takes a herculean effort to get my game face on and show up as a leader for my small team and family. I believe the battle we are waging against greedy and myopic industrial powers that perpetuate the destruction of our planet demands a different kind of warrior. We must refuse to give in to the illusion of powerlessness. We must embrace positivity. We must all show up for each other as leaders in our daily lives.
I plan to continue rallying those who have joined me on this conservation journey to be kinder, do more for the planet, support each other, and fight the fear manufactured to immobilize everyone around us. Just like our lone diver, isolated in an abyss of dread, it is the stubborn determination of those who refuse to leave us behind that will pull us free and ensure the protection of our beautiful planet.