I’ve been an ‘academic missionary’ for almost four years now, working on a post-doctorate fellowship with St. Mary’s. You readers and followers and blog-stalkers have all made me feel like I’m part of a community, even though I’m about as isolated as Marvin the Martian on Pluto. I guess that’s the wonder of the interweb: we’re together even though we’re separate. We’re friends even though we’ve never met. I’m loved even when I’m unlovable.
Thanks again for all your support.
I know some of you have been worried about me. Don’t be. I haven’t lost my faith. That would imply that it’s completely absent. It might be more accurate to say that I remember the words but have forgotten the tune. God keeps humming it in my ear, but I can’t get the cadence right. He’s a good musician, but right now I’m a shoddy front man. Thankfully most of my research involves writing new lyrics to the same old song. I don’t have to be able to carry the tune to make a living.
For those of you who don’t know my wife, Elisabeth Mann was a marine biologist. I don’t normally talk about Liz. Not since the accident. But I’ve been watching Sebastian (Maltraitence), and I like how he lights up when he speaks about her. Maybe I’m inspired.
Liz worked with the Institut Oceanographique based off the northern coast of Brittany (France). She was recruited for her expertise on deep sea aquatic bioforms. was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We both scrimped and saved (and borrowed) our way through college. When the French came knocking, informing us of a unique cooperation with the Russians, Liz signed on the dotted line and we said goodbye.
I thought goodbye would just be for a few weeks.
It was forever.
La Dignite (her Deep Sea Reconnaissance Vehicle, or DSRV) was heading into the Sea of Okhotsk, into black water. That’s what they call it when you’re so deep you can’t even see gradients of residual light from the surface. That’s not the deepest part of our world, but it is a very dangerous part that has never been explored. Weve never seen the bottom of Okhotsk. Not even close. Actually, we know more about what Jupiter is like than we do about the watery basement of earth.
The Russians had initially done some sample drilling off the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula and had found traces of precious minerals (fancy, expensive stuff like gadolinium and dysprosium). These “rare earth” minerals were beneath several feet of silt and sand on the bottom of the seafloor and would need to be excavated. From there, the raw materials would be carried up to a super-tanker floating on the Sea of Okhotsk where they would be refined, offloaded, and sold for ridiculous amounts of money.
The Russians acted quickly. Given the location of these precious mineral deposits, the old Russo-Japanese conflict was likely to intensify. Coupled with the fact that China controls about 97% of the current world supply, you’ve got one heck of a reason for the Russians to hurry up and get busy. So they did, beginning by recruiting Sebastian Maltraitence (international playboy and profiteer) and his armada of fancy submersibles and undersea tech. Sebastian, ever the patriot, insisted on the involvement of Institut Oceanographique and despite some strong initial resistance from the Russians, the Franco-Russian expedition soon proceeded.
Liz was part of a small crew on La Dignite, Sebastian’s latest and greatest gift to scientific exploration. La Dignite was equipped with robotic cranes and drills to take further samples, a vast assortment of electrical doodads and thingamajigs, and a dive chamber. Their dive would have set new records, exposing them to the pressure of unprecedented depths. feet under the Sea of Okhotsk was a long way down. Liz would have been the first to make that dive had she survived. She would have seen first hand all the beauty of God’s watery creation. She was the ecological nod to an otherwise capitalist venture.
It’s funny. She and Sebastian didn’t get along initially. He was the bachelor whose days of philandering had finally given way to a season of philanthropy. Liz thought he was a blowhard all TV and no science until she met him. Then she was star struck. I’ve never seen her so excited. I’m not jealous by nature, but I was a little envious of Sebastian. After all, I’m a speculative theologian with $140,000 in student loan debt courtesy of St. Mary’s Theological College and he’s a trust-fund rock star with brains to rival Carl Sagan. That’s tough to swallow. But I did, because I loved Liz and I wanted her to live out her dream.
Liz and I had an unforgettably romantic evening before she left, and then I watched the collapse of her submarine on broadcast television. It was the underwater Chernobyl. You couldn’t make anything out, except that the woman I loved died right then, in between commercials for discount auto insurance and the NBA D-league playoffs.
I no longer own a TV.
Sebastian was a great support after Liz died. He had meant to go along on the expedition but an infection, dysentery, prevented him at the last minute. Since there was so much media attention, the crew went without him. It’s hard to say which of us felt worse. I, at least, got the pleasure of hating him in the midst of my self-loathing. He hated himself too, but I don’t think that was as therapeutic.
Many in the media took the opportunity to suggest Sebastian knew something about the disaster in advance. They slandered him, wondering aloud whether or not he intentionally sent Liz and the others into a scenario for which they were unprepared. They called it a publicity stunt. A ploy. The wayward wish of a spoiled boy-who-could-shave.
But none of them saw Sebastian at Liz’s grave. And none of them recorded the calls between Sebastian and in the months that followed, mourning her over tired coffee and two-day-old croissants on the counter. And none of them were there when he rescued me financially, when I fell behind in my debt-service, when I lost my post-doctoral fellowship, when I lost my mind.