Learn to live underwater



Originally published on Kati's Blog on 10.12.2017

 How a woman that cannot move at all showed me the meaning of real happiness.

As a young child, I would spend a lot of time with my grandfather. My grandfather was not tall nor large built muscular man. He was quite short (160cm tall) and had an average body. However, not even the most muscular types would not dare to stand up to him. He was a correct, upright and righteous man who everyone respected. He was my role model, the kind of man I wanted to become when I grew up.


Not many knew this, but he liked to read about two things in particular; intriguing stuff such as UFO’s, Bermuda triangle, Philadelphia Experiment, etc. and philosophical thoughts such as Aristotle, Confucius, Descartes and even Nietzsche.

At the age of ten, I started to read his books and talking to him about all the stories, the theories and the meaning of the items. So, thus beginning my ‘taste for the enigmatic’ and my ‘love for wisdom.’

As I developed a deeper understanding of everything, I started to look for philosophical meaning behind it all. I was always searching for a more in-depth sense behind; stories, daily events, people’s behavior and even in cartoons that I would watch on television.

One day while watching a Japanese cartoon about a samurai boy who was set on avenging his father’s murder. At a specific moment, an old man told the boy this story:

There was this island with a very advanced civilization. They have come to know that the ocean is rising rapidly and that the island will be under water.

The leaders of the government first turned to their academics for guidance on how they can save their country and their lives.

The scholar’s hypothesis was to build a wall around the island and hope that it is high and strong enough to hold out the water.

Not feeling content and assured by the recommendation they went to the retired intellectuals who have more experience in life for their advice.

They proposed to build a holy place where everybody can come together, pray for Gods mercy, and hope that he would spare the island.

Needless to say; that the rulers were not convinced with this proposal either. Therefore, they turned to the wise old man for his advice.

The wise man told them; ‘learn to live underwater.’

This story captivated my mind and became motto that I would live my life by; Accept, Adapt and then Thrive in unusual situations.

Life is not easy for a teenager that loves philosophy. I would always have a different view and opinion about matters. Aspect and opinions that most could not understand. Not just my people my age but even older folks could not comprehend my way of thinking.

I had some rough teenage years, which spread, into my early twenties. I was having trouble being what folks call normal. I could not do things in the usual way; I always had to find my way.

I would take on less conventional jobs that I did not know anything of. I would learn the skills, work hard with positive attitude, do my best and rise quickly to a higher position. Once I reached the top, I would get bored of it all and quit the job to go on the look for a new challenge. Therefore, the story would repeat itself.

My love life would also suffer from my way of being. I was ‘the romantic fool’ that mothers warn their daughters about. I would fall in love and even try to make a life with a woman. However, eventually we will get to the point of having an ordinary life, and there was where thing start going wrong. I could not handle being normal. I would get depressed and find a way to sabotage the relationship and bring it to an end.

As I was getting older in my mid-forties, I realized that I could not keep living as if I was living. I cannot keep starting from zero, climbing my way up to bring it all down again.  I must adapt to living an ordinary life, and then was it that she came along.

I saw a picture of her on a media site. I sent her a message, and we started to chat. It clicked between us immediately. We were having great conversation, and I decided to check her profile out and notice a wheelchair in all her full body pictures. I asked her what was up with that and she told me that she suffers from Locked-In syndrome. She was completely paralyzed but did not pity herself in the least bit. She could not even speak yet she was the most confident and happiest person I ever met.

I felt humbled by this woman. I was always so proud of how I could continuously adapt and thrive in tight situations. Now I came to meet a woman who really knows the meaning of; ‘learning to live underwater.’

Our chats became more and more frequent. As one thing leads to another, three years later we got married before a priest who blessed our union with tears in his eyes.

I always knew that I was meant to live a less than ordinary life, but did not have the faintest idea of how it was going to be. I am married to the most gorgeous and amazing woman. She takes me to places I never thought I would go. I find myself giving lectures and speeches, giving motivational talks to a broad public from teenagers all the way up to academics. I even found myself giving a TED talk.

Of all the adventures I have been through, I never thought that I would end up as one of the leading characters in a love story. However, here I am today living/sharing a life less ordinary at the side of an extraordinary woman.

Henning van der Hoeven

Posted in on December 13 at 04:04 PM

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