AXE

On a summer day in the fifties I was picnicking with friends at a beach somewhere in Saskatchewan. One of them lent me an old oxygen-rebreathing apparatus. This was the forerunner of the aqualung. I had never dived before, but he showed me how to use it and I swam out to give it a try. When the water seemed deep enough to be interesting, I submerged and swam down to examine the sand close up, sucking away quite comfortably from my little tank. But then I wondered what the world looked like from the standpoint of a fish and I made the mistake of rolling over to look up at the surface. My mask began to fill with water. Alone in this alien environment, I utterly panicked. It was absurd, but people die absurdly. Panic overwhelms.

But before I could begin to thrash about, a curious event occurred. An entity arrived, or perhaps revealed itself, that I can only call IT. IT instantly walled off the panic and rendered it harmless. IT said to me in no uncertain terms, You will now hold your breath, open your eyes, swim up to the surface, take off the mask, breathe, and stop this nonsense!

Let me be clear: this was not me giving myself a good talking-to, nor was I `hearing voices.’ It was the assertion of a will quite apart from my own, and there was no possible questioning of it. The panic went on flailing away like an hysterical bird trapped in a room—I was sharply aware of it—but it had been effectively sealed off and rendered harmless. I did what I was told, there was the sun, the beach, the friends waving, the panic subsiding, IT modestly departing.

Nothing like it has happened before or since. The entire episode was over in five seconds, very businesslike, sharply defined. What does it mean? Was it an outside agency coming to the rescue? What outside? What agency? It seems unlikely that a seraph or an archangel could spare the time for someone stupid enough to drown in eight feet of water. Well then, is this IT a separate component of oneself? If so, why have I not known it?

I am no closer to understanding it than ever. Curious events occur in dreams, but I have never encountered such a powerful force in a dream as this entity that appeared underwater on a sunny morning. It seemed like the personification of pure will. Whose will? Not mine, God knows; if my will were that monumental I wouldn’t be sitting here tapping out words, I would be in Ottawa running the country.

Daemon? Guardian angel? My guardian angelЎcan there be such a thing?

Whatever this entity, I wonder how trustworthy it is. Could it be destructive? I think of the double-bitted axe, that cuts the cutter or the cut. If I were in an overloaded lifeboat, would IT re-emerge and order me to push others into the water to drown so that I could live? Or would it compel me to be noble beyond my nature? (I mistakenly typed this as `to be normal beyond my nature’.)