Mick felt the familiar thrill run through his body as he stood on the edge of the passenger dive-boat. He felt totally alive as he checked his mask, snorkel and 17-pound weight belt. Then, taking a deep breathe that filled him full of excitement, he took the long step off the edge of the boat and dropped 10 feet into the sea. Before he plunged under water, he caught a glimpse of the vertical cliffs of Anacapa Island, a steep up-thrust in the Pacific Ocean, 70 miles north of Los Angles.
He slid down under the blue waves and lingered under for a moment before lazily kicking back to the surface. He gave the ‘okay’ signal to the dive-boat crew, then turned and looked toward the island, about 200 yards away. He could see the gulls and cormorants and now a pelican tucking and plunging into the surf and he heard sea lions barking their morning greetings. Great whites were known to hunt here, but Mick didn’t see any, only the fantastic, beautiful ocean, stretching into the hazy blue-green distance. He felt the strength of the ocean, but its energy seemed to help him as he swam steadily toward the island.
Mick was 69 years old and felt better than he had ever felt in his life. A witness, who did not know Mick, would never have guessed he has been a kidney transplant recipient – four times. Throw in the fact that one was from his wife and another from his brother, add in enormous amounts of angst, fear, depression, hope, joy and love and Mick’s astonishing story, I’ve always felt, has lessons for just about everybody.
Mick swam all the way to shore and back again, which is a handy metaphor for his 35-year battle with kidney disease. Along the way, he did some free-diving, pointing his face toward the sea floor, fins toward the sky, and ‘penciling’ his way toward the bottom. After nearly a minute under water, he found a hole in the kelp, slid through it and broke the surface, breathing hard, but exhilarated.
Back on deck, his wetsuit drawn down around his waist, Mick looked lean and muscular, the result of relentless swimming, diving, hiking and eating healthy food.
It would be hard for anyone who saw Mick, standing there on the boat deck, looking athletic and chiseled, to believe he had undergone all those transplants or that he had spent eight years on dialysis. Or that he had spent thousands of days and nights wondering whether he would ever regain his health. Days and nights that were sometimes full of hope and gratitude, but almost as often, they were full of despair and even thoughts of suicide.