Isak Dinesen said, “The cure for anything is saltwater – sweat, tears, or the sea.” When I got home last Thursday and heard the news of Suzanne’s death, I latched onto that phrase in my mind and drew from its soft, hollow hope. My heart hurt with a tangible ache, a pain I could point to, and the tears that accompanied it into the next day were not something I expected.
You didn’t know her all that well, I told myself. You only met her a handful of times.
But Suzanne was one of those people that you didn’t have to know very well to absolutely adore. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with her to enjoy her sense of humor and wit. The handful of times we met during and after swims with the Glens Falls YMCA Masters, and her preceding reputation of endurance and strength, were enough for me to know that she was someone I wanted to count as a friend. Her smile was easy to admire. Her attitude was certain to inspire. She fought cancer and loss with a resilience and determination that left me in awe. It was not lost on me that the first time I met her was months after doctors had already told her she would be gone.
She encouraged my English Channel dream. She once invited me to stay at her house if that would be easier to get to the pool. She was, like most swimming friends, a heart-wide-open, welcoming, sweet person.
That was who she was. She made it easy to feel like death had robbed us all when it took her away.
I have the sea, I told myself as I wiped my tears that Friday. At least I am going to swim in the sea.
Because that’s the cure after all. I will get to the sea, and everything will be better. I will shed these tears and be cured. I will let these emotions find their exit in my sweat in the workout tonight. It’s the cure for anything.
Sweat. Tears. The Sea.
…But is it really the cure?
My heart fell as I admitted the fact that she’s still gone. There’s a family without a wife and mother. There’s a void. There’s an empty feeling. An ache. A loss. What remedy is it to swim, after all? How selfish to think that it could cure anything at all!
I wrestled with myself. I wrestled with swimming. Again. All the time I spend. All the energy it takes from me. Isn’t there something better I could do? Why do you want to build a pool when people – amazing, talented, exceptional, incredible people – are dying?
Isn’t there something I can do?
I thought about the friends and family I’ve lost to cancer. The people I’ve watched fight it. I’d raised money before for cancer patients and their families. Close to $2,400. It wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t enough.
Saturday came and I stood on the sandy beach. I stared at the cold ocean. I walked into the water and dove in when it was deep enough for me to swim. And I swam.
I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t even have a 4-year college degree. I’m not particularly gifted in any academic or artistic way. I’m not a genius. I’m not a prodigy. I went to school to fly airplanes so that I could deliver aid and medicine to remote locations in Africa. I’m not an Engineer. I’m not a Writer. I’m not a Scientist. I’m not a Doctor.
I won’t ever find the cure for cancer.
But what if I build something, Suzanne? I whispered to the sea. What if I build something?
What if I help build a pool? What if that changes 20 kids’ lives? What if that makes 30 people healthier? What if they go on to run races and swim marathons and raise money and awareness? What if I build something? I know one scientist who came out of Rutland, VT and is working in cancer research – what if there are more? What if all they need is somebody to believe in them? Some place they can go? A chance at another scholarship? Another good thing on a college application or résumé? What if I build something? What if we stop only trying to fight on the back side of the disease? What if we invest in our futures? What if we look a little further downline? What if we build something?
What if we build something?
It’s the same fight. It’s the same fight.
I would have never met you, Suzanne, if not for that pool.
So I’m not. I’m not an Engineer or a Writer or a Scientist or a Doctor or a Pilot. I’m not going to cure cancer.
But I am going to swim. Today. Tomorrow. Across the English Channel. I am going to take the inspiration that is Suzanne’s life and battle and fortitude and energy and hold it close to my heart. I am going to let her change me. I am going to let all that good seed sown in her death grow into something beautiful in the garden of my life. I am going to fight cancer the way I know how: I am going to build something. I am going to build a pool.
I am going to build.
Because that’s where we will find the cure.