My Work, On Being Human

Seven Centimeters Below The Surface

Seven Centimeters Below The Surface

It has been a long time since the thought of nuclear war even seemed like a possibility in my mind. I may be somewhat naive when it comes to our species (admittedly and voluntarily), but I really believed that we humans had evolved to the point where not radiating the planet and ending millions of lives was kind of a no-brainer. In recent months however, I have had that belief challenged by a few humans that seem to lack not only foresight, but any degree of compassion as well. For the moment however, discussions of one group of humanoids lobbing death-bombs at another seems to have calmed somewhat, but I still find it quite unnerving that the prospect even exists. My painting, “Seven Centimeters From The Surface,” came into existence through this disquiet of my soul.

The vision for this piece came to me one beautiful autumn afternoon in 2017. I was resting my head on my Beloved’s chest, with his arms around me, and I was not asleep but not fully awake either. This spot is my favorite place in the Multiverse, where normally I find it to be a safe, warm, protected zone where tension dissipates, fear is non-existent, and it gently becomes my own personal Nirvana. But that day, there was a thread of sadness or fear that wove itself through this otherwise blissful place. The news at that time period consisted of a great deal of angry, sophomoric banter between the United States and North Korea, and talk of nuclear war was omnipresent. I couldn’t shake the idea just how absolutely disappointing it would be if a series of nuclear blasts were to obliterate all the good that has come from human existence. I am fully aware that there is still a lot of unpleasantness still left in our species, but I honestly feel that many of the negative aspects humanity still holds onto are only remnants of things we have shed over the millennia of our residence here on Earth. Granted, there’s still much more to be shed, but I have always felt that the kindness, the love, the compassion, the creativity we have developed in our species, far outweighs the violence, greed, and anger that I see as having their font in the primal base from which this human journey began. Still, that day, I was left unnerved.

“Evolution” by Taymaz Valley, – Flickr

In my semi-conscious state, I just rode the feeling, surfing it, riding the wave to see where it would take me. It took me to a luxury cruise liner, not unlike the famed Titanic in many ways, though it was clearly not that ship, it was much too modern. The late day sun still shined on this early summer evening, and a gala event had just begun in the main ballroom of the ship, with men in tuxedos and women in a wide variety of beautiful gossamer gowns. I dove deeper into the vision and it took me to an inner cabin of the ship where a young woman with fiery red hair was almost ready to join the others. As she went to pick up her clutch for the evening, she caught herself in the mirror, stopped, and smiled. This evening, this gala, had been a long time coming, she had worked tirelessly to bring herself here, and for the briefest of moments she felt a sense of contentedness so profound that she almost didn’t feel her body anymore. For a flash, she fully felt herself a part of the entire Multiverse, in every time, in every place. In that flash she smiled, fully experiencing the joy of not only feeling the interconnectedness of everything, everywhere, but the knowledge of it. It was not a belief in that moment, it was instead clear and sure knowledge.

The moment did not last long however, as she was snapped back to what many refer to as “reality” when she felt the floor suddenly move and she momentarily lost her balance. It felt to her as if she had been riding in a bus and the bus had run over a very large rock. Puzzled, her mind had only begun to sort through the number of reasons how such a thing could have occurred while in a big boat, when alarms began sounding and her room began to tilt heavily to one side. She wondered, “How in the world can my room move like this…,” then of course immediately realizing it couldn’t be just her room, but the entire ship. Struggling not to fall, she braced herself against one wall and began to use another as the new floor. Oddly calm, she asked herself why she wasn’t panicking, then thought perhaps it best not to wonder such a thing and made the conscious decision to remain centered in her mind, to stay calm, zen-like. This was successful for several moments, until she heard the water.

Outside her door, which was now beneath her feet, she could hear a loud, roaring sound as the air in the hallway outside was quickly replaced with the sea. As the sound reached its crescendo, the lights began to flicker quickly and then went out. Though now completely in the dark and could not see it, she could hear and then feel the water that was now filling her windowless room through the door beneath her feet. Panic now reared its distorted head and she fell prey to the instinct to run. But to where? Three splashing steps in any direction and she was blocked. The fear was rushing inside her as forcefully as the water had rushed through the hallway. The water was ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep in seconds. Her subconscious desire to survive asserted itself and she found her way back that zen state of mind, though it was hardly a peaceful place to be. She envisioned being inside a bubble, with several million very angry bees just outside its shiny edge.

The thought of the bubble brought her to the fact that the very limited amount of air in the room was very soon going to be gone. Now floating in the middle of the room, she reached up to see how much breathable space was left. Disheartened to find she had not even a forearm’s length left, she made her decision. She would swim, she had to swim. She had to try.

Recalling her meditation classes, she closed her eyes and slowly breathed, imagining her heart into a slower pace. As the non-liquid part of the room grew smaller and smaller, she drew in a deep, calm breath, and ducked her head beneath the water. Some red emergency lights had come on at some point, she didn’t remember when that had happened, but was grateful for the fact that she had at least a modicum of illumination to assist her finding the door. She turned the knob and the door opened surprisingly easily now that the pressure had equalized. There didn’t seem to be as strong a current as she had expected. The torrent from before had stabilized now that the entire hallway was submerged. She decided to swim against what little current was left, thinking it might lead her to wherever the water had been coming in.

It didn’t take long for her to find that spot either. Following the now gentle flow of water to the end of her long hall and around the first turn, she was awed by how much of what had once been ship was no longer there. A giant gaping hole opened up before her and she dismissed the questions in her mind regarding what had happened. A bomb? An accidental explosion inside the boat? Did it run into something? These were things to spend energy on later. First she had to find her way out of there.

Swimming carefully around the sharp twisted metal around the edges of the hole, she felt a twinge of relief as she made it outside the great ship. Thankfully the sun was still shining, even considering the hour, and she could see where she needed to go. Her lungs were beginning to ache, holding that last gasp for now almost two minutes was taking its toll. As she cleared the ship and moved out into open water with a straight line of sight to the glorious surface, she felt a tug on her dress as the hem caught on the gnarled wreck behind her.

Frissell, Toni
(model in dolphin tank, 1939 fashion photo by Toni Frissell)

Momentarily jolted out of her tranquil, focused state, she turned, grabbed her dress and pulled, then pulled again harder. The dress tore easily enough and it made her heart twinge with a strange, and now ridiculous, sadness. She bought that dress especially for tonight. She had seen it in the boutique window near her home, and stopped every day to admire it. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The fabric looked as if it were made of whispers, it was so thin, and yet, there. Tiny pearls had been stitched on, in radiant patterns, affixed with the most delicate of threads imaginable. It was off-white one could say, or ivory, but it’s layers and layers of translucence made identifying a specific color nearly impossible. The pearls gave the wearer a subtle, opalescent glow, and the first time she tried that dress on, she felt as if she herself had been woven of magic.

Her pearls caught the light that radiated down from above, leaving her sparkling in the deep. She began slowly exhaling, her lungs needed relief, and besides, the surface did not seem so far away. Her dress was heavy, but her awkward yet efficient way of swimming amidst all that fabric seemed to be working. She imagined herself a jellyfish, with one flowing, full-arms-and-legs “bloomp” after another, causing her dress to remind her of a video she had seen on YouTube entitled “The Jellyfish Dance.” A soft smile graced her face as the serenity of feeling like a jellyfish made her endeavor much easier to endure. Her exhale had finished some time ago, and she calmly let her lungs be empty… “I’m a jellyfish…I’m a jellyfish…I’m a jellyfish…”

In the end, it was her lungs that finally could not continue. They demanded oxygen, and now. She was so close, she could see the shapes of the waves dancing along above her. She could see shadows of seabirds. But it was with a slightly bemused sense of disbelief that she had to let her now desperate lungs inhale. The spirit was indeed willing, but the flesh was so very weak. She had no choice. She had been so close, she had almost made it.

Seven centimeters below the surface, she realized, she had died.

"Seven Centimeters Below The Surface," 92cm x 122cm (36"x48") oil on canvas, 2017 by Terri Maxfield Lipp
“Seven Centimeters Below The Surface,” 92cm x 122cm (36″x48″) oil on canvas, 2017 by Terri Maxfield Lipp

Usually the wanderings of the mind that happen to me while snuggling with my Beloved, take me to beautiful, interesting places. But I saw that what I had experienced with Her, was how I felt about humanity. We had come so far, we had worked so hard, we as a species have the internet, we have solar panels, we have Teslas! There seems to be more love in the world than ever before, there seems to be more tolerance, more creativity than ever before, and it felt to me in that moment, with the ubiquitous newsfeed about leaders of these two countries and their chest thumping, posturing, growling, and basically threatening to kill everyone on the planet…that we humans had come so close to becoming what we really could have been. We could have been traveling the stars within a few decades, we could have been exploring outer space and inner space, we could have been living in a post-monetary society where the accumulation of material wealth was replaced with the desire to do what we could for the betterment of mankind.* We could have found the cures for many, many diseases, we could have found common ground with every living thing we came into contact with, we could finally have achieved the whole peace and love thing that pops up again and again in human consciousness. But just two inward facing egos, lacking the proper training in love, never having experienced the beauty and calming effects of real love, could in moments destroy everything we have evolved into being. I found it less frightening than just mind-blowingly sad. So, so close…

As of this writing, such a thing has not occurred, and for that I’m grateful. But the possibility still exists, and really, I suppose it has for the past 73 years, after Oppenheimer’s creation was unleashed for the first time, though we tend to put that thought far into the background of our daily lives. As long as there are humans that do not get to experience love firsthand, that don’t feel the interconnectedness of us all, to each other and to everything that is, and as long as weapons of mass destruction exist anywhere on the planet, the end of this amazing journey remains a possibility. I can’t help though, to have faith that our evolution will continue to bring us to great places, great states of mind and heart. If we are allowed to get there, if we can tame the beast within, I foresee great things for us, the little bipedal primates that could…and will.


* Thank you Captain Picard for your speech in the film “First Contact”

And just because this is basically where I learned everything when I was a small child:

All images in this post are either photos I have taken, or images I have used and/or altered with the understanding that they were available for free use through Google filters. Images are credited where credits were available. If permission was granted in error and you are the owner of an image in question, please contact me here to rectify any misuse errors. Thank you.

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