“Black holes aren’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole, both to the outside, and possibly, to another universe. So, if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out.” Stephen Hawking
I was the only woman aboard. The guys were fist-pumping and chanting and glancing over the side of the dive boat, looking hard into the deep blue water for an early glimpse of the great reef. This dive master had promised us a spectacular sight, and we were ready, intrigued. Well, the men were ~ “pumped” and “stoked” were synonyms they favored. I, on the other hand, the only novice among us, had a few cautious questions before this dive began.
“You say this dive is called ‘The Black Hole,’” I began, talking over the dive master’s shoulder as he sped the boat to the dive spot. “Could you tell me just a little more about it? I’ve just completed my lessons and that was in the North Sea where you don’t go deep and there are no real reefs. Did I hear you say that the Black Hole spits a diver out at a bit more than 100 feet? Well, I’ve never been to that depth and maybe I should sit this first one out, just let the guys go, and I’ll take the shallower dive later. Don’t you think?”
The lady doth protest too much.
Of the many questions I asked that morning, there was only one answer. This die had already been cast; I had stepped onto this boat; we were diving The Black Hole. His answers to me in his lovely rich Caribbean brogue were the same, identical really, whether we were discussing seasickness or diving into deep holes in the reef or how long we would actually stay under the water. Probably world politics would elicit the same response from him.
“Ah, all is good, mon. No worries. I’ll be there with you.”
We were a party of six. Larry and me, Larry’s brother Spence, two college guys from the University of Georgia (wearing T-shirts to prove it), and the dive master. This day was perfect for diving ~ not much wind and not many waves. The turquoise ocean seemed ready to receive us. For this moment, it was easy and beautiful.
“Ah, we are here, mon,” the dive master announced, turning off the skiff’s motor and tying onto a bouncing buoy marker, the pre-dive stillness broken with the stirring and whirring of equipment prep ~ masks and flippers and tanks and belts.
Let it be noted that while we wore equipment that Jacques Cousteau himself would have coveted and enough of it to stay underwater indefinitely, our dive master donned only a mask with no strap (held on his face by taking in a hard, deep breath) and his tank and regulator. Oh, and some pitiful-looking, half-splintered flippers. A real no-frills kind of guy.
“Here’s what we’ll see, mon,” our dive master began. “You will flip off the back of the boat, one at a time. Wait for me just under the surface, ten or fifteen feet down. We’ll go down to eighty feet where the mouth of the Black Hole is. Watch the water change colors – the blues getting deeper and richer as you descend, so beautiful. Don’t miss the fishes. Always look up and down as you fall. When we get there, at about eighty feet, you will see the great hole in the reef. It is a very dark cave and you will see no light when you enter it, but that’s OK, mon, just swim in, no worries. It will dogleg a bit to the right very quickly, and then you will see light. Swim toward that light. The end of this reef cave will put you out over water thousands of feet deep. The dark blue water of the depths combined with the light blue water above creates a hue that you can see nowhere else on earth. It’s like a heavenly blue; you must see it to know it’s real. That’s why we go to the Black Hole, to see that blue.”
The two college boys finished first and started a low, growling chant of “Black Hole, Black Hole,” like a football warm-up. In they jumped. The rest of us followed, rolling in backwards, adjusting masks and regulators.
From now on, all communication would be with hands and eyes.
The slow descent to eighty feet was like a floating dream ~ ancient sea turtles easing past, unafraid of human touch, and schools of tiny, neon fishes darting, darting. Fins large and small.
Weightless wanderers we, journeying to a new place for the first time, like the poet Keats observed, “When a new planet swims into his ken.”
The journey to the reef was quick, our new environs glanced upon but not examined, and we so soon found ourselves hovering above the cay, peering into its cave entrance, not large, maybe twelve feet in diameter. Floating, we divers glanced at our dive master, needy for his wordless instructions. Glancing downward into the Black Hole, he pointed with authority into the darkness. We had already received our instructions: “It will dogleg a bit to the right very quickly and then you will see the light. Swim toward that light.”
Nodding and grinning, the dive master modeled his own teaching and, with great speed and agility, simply turned and swam into the blackness. I blinked and he was gone. The college guys followed suit, as did my brother-in-law. Down they went, simply disappearing into the reef, one after the other, the mouth swallowing them all so quickly that Larry and I were simply left, hovering. I needed a moment just to look around me, to be sure that they really were gone.
We were alone, hovering about The Black Hole, and it was much much blacker than I expected.
I cannot do this, my frightened eyes say, pleading with Larry for mercy and a way out. This is much more than I bargained for. It’s too dark – there is no light in there at all.
We must follow them, his eyes clearly say. There’s no other alternative. We can’t go back to the boat, and I know he’s right as we both look up, up, up, eighty feet and realize that we have no idea even where our dive boat is.
We are rookies in the darkness of these untried waters.
Suspended over this gaping mouth, I concentrate on merely breathing in and out, to regulate both my physical position and my stress. There’s nothing else to be done. Larry won’t go without me, and I won’t go.
The blackness of the cave overwhelms. It’s hopelessness and fearsomeness and silence is stronger than I am. I will not go.
Nothing but silence. Fearsome beauty in silence.
From the cave mouth comes wordless surprise – the brown hand of the dive master emerges, quick and ready, shaking and grabbing at the water, searching for something. A lost diver perhaps, someone left behind. A coward or a novice swimming in waters way above her head, unprepared for the dark path that awaits, even though she had been told that it would come.
His quick hand was searching for the person who could not follow him into the darkness.
Dare I reach down? What will happen if I take the hand of the master?
I’d like to think that it was an act of faith, but really it was just a lack of options that made me exhale enough breath to lower my scuba-clad self close enough to the reef mouth to take his hand. I reached out, I did, but the dive master reached harder and with more deliberation, and the instant his fingers touched mine, he grabbed my hand with the power of a great sea creature and pulled me in.
Into the inky, pitchy darkness of a deep, underwater, black hole.
Swimming blind in the dark thirty feet before the turn. Thirty feet doesn’t seem like much when one is walking off room dimensions or even swimming laps. But in the dark, it is slow. I think it was the silence that made the journey seem so very long. Silent swimming and the blackness of such a place ~ I had no choice but to hold onto the brown hand of the dive master. Rather, he held onto mine with the firm grip of one who would never lose a diver in this blackness. He had been here before ~ he knew the way.
Together we moved through, together turned the corner. I could actually see it coming, shimmering glimpses of blue light dancing on rough cave walls in what still felt like a great distance away.
Not really light, more like the thought of light. Is this what hope looks like?
I blinked and squinted and blinked again, unsure. What I was sure of was that I was doing absolutely none of the work of swimming – neither kicking nor stroking – I was simply being pulled toward the promise of light and a glimpse of blue that can only be seen here, in this very spot, and nowhere else on earth. I felt a light brush of something against my arm, and instinctively glanced over my shoulder. In grand wonder I saw the glimmer of those neon fishes, thousands and thousands of them, flitting and dancing in great groups all around me, gleefully reflecting the greens and pinks and oranges of their creation.
Reflecting the light. Glory be to God for dappled things.
As promised, there it was. We turned the corner and the dive master released his mighty grip and swam speedily ahead of me, other divers to attend to. My glance and my instinct followed him and I swam. Within seconds I was out of the Black Hole and swimming into the vastness of the sea itself, looking into that heavenly blue that the master had promised. Look up and the water is so clear that, even at this level, I could see the whiteness of the breaking waves on the surface of the water. Look down and the waters darken to blueness unique to deep, deep water.
Where darkness meets light, that is where beauty lives.
“You really can’t see the bluest blue until you’ve seen the blackest black. That’s all I know, mon.”
Sometimes our knowledge and preparation and personality and strength are just not enough. Sometimes the dark is too dark and the light is too far away, and we lose hope of ever seeing anything else but the inky blackness.
The Master lives there too, hand outstretched. “Ah, all is good, mon. No worries. I’ll be there with you.”
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
“Precious Lord, take my hand / Lead me home, let me stand / I am tired, I am weak, I am worn, /
Through the storm, through the night / Lead me on to the light / Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.“
Jazz trombonist and band leader Tommy Dorsey wrote the song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” after his wife and baby died during childbirth. Dorsey wrote, “As the Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.”
Here is Tommy Dorsey telling his story and the song itself ~ it’s worth a listen: