When reflecting on memories of his brother MJ, Michael made a decision to honour his brother’s memory by initiating a personal challenge while giving back. This is Michael’s giving story.
“Always remember to be yourself”.
The wisdom contained within that statement eluded me; it was advice from my older brother MJ. He passed away in 2014. A year had passed since his funeral and I was despondent and gave up trying to understand what he meant.
When considering the statement, a question arose that came from nowhere, “Who am I?” and when searching for an answer, nothing came to mind. Truth is, I’m not sure I ever knew.
Hovering over my laptop, I rapidly began typing. Two words illuminated the screen and stared back at me: Northumberland Strait. 13 kilometers of cold water, tide, jellyfish and current. It was time to go for it, and it was in that moment that I decided I would swim the Northumberland Strait, the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence River’s southernmost tip. This going to be my way of saying goodbye. It was going to be my way of giving back to honour my brother. But there was just one problem, swimming wasn’t always my strong suit. In fact, swimming always frightened me. It still does.
Why support Lifeline Malawi? MJ sponsored many children in Africa during his adult life. I travelled to Tanzania in 2009 and was stunned at the poverty I witnessed. But Lifeline Malawi was the perfect choice for another reason. Dr. Chris Brooks, a Calgary based physician, sold everything he owned in the late 90’s and moved to Malawi to treat the sick and impoverished. Dr. Brooks was also our family physician when MJ and I were children.
Open water swimming is terrifying. Tides, waves and weather are relatively unpredictable. Water temperature is cold. Marine life is unstable and potentially dangerous in the same way, life can be scary. Life takes without warning, appears wondrous one day and destructive the next. It’s unstable, impermanent, fleeting.
Swimming requires absolute care. Each stroke practiced with precision and concentration is essential to achieve maximum efficiency in the water. Proper breathing and relaxation is necessary to keep the mind focused and calm. Mastering the stroke and breath are key to successful marathon swimming.
When observed, swimming can teach us how to live. If each day and every waking moment within it is honoured and treated with focus and right thought, immense power emerges. Any difficulty that exists begin to disappear with no effort. Life becomes fun, peaceful, and joyous.
Training to swim the strait has taught me how to live a happy and prosperous life again. Instead of treading water, I become one with it. Similarly, instead of opposing life and wanting it to be different, I flow with it. Swimming has taught me to rise above loss and tragedy. It’s shown me that life is both impersonal and precious. To treat life with care and mindfulness is to honour it.
“Swimming has taught me to rise above loss and tragedy. It’s shown me that life is both impersonal and precious. To treat life with care and mindfulness is to honour it.”
Swimming the Strait for Hope is about moving on, acceptance and honouring the past. Whatever hardship faced in life, there is always a deeper good. A reason to move on. How do you move on? You live! It is as simple as that. What appeared as the sunset, was actually the sun rising.
When you look inside yourself, you are fearful of what you might find. And when you take this leap of faith, something tremendous happens. You come to life. When we learn to let go and just LIVE no matter what happened in the past, we see that life is precious. This preciousness opens you up to infinite possibilities—and then you really live!
It then became clear. MJ wasn’t saying “Always remember to be yourself.” It was, “Always remember to BE yourself.” Understanding to BE is wisdom. Now I know who I am. See you on the shores of New Brunswick. Love you, brother.