Journal entry by Vicki Bunke
Earlier last week as I was preparing to leave for stop #13 of The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour, I recalled something Melissa (Grace’s nurse practitioner) said to me in Grace’s hospital room in late March 2018. She said, “She’s not built like the rest of us.”
I knew at the time that Melissa was referring to our current problem, the unusual physical strength of Grace’s heart and lungs, which was making her end-of-life care more than challenging for us. I knew at the time that Melissa was referring to the fact that Grace was single-handedly draining the hospital of its Fentanyl and Dilaudid inventory, yet remained alert enough to tell Caroline that she loved her. I knew at the time that Melissa was referring to the fact that despite being administered an unprecedented amount of narcotics and having an epidural in place to cut off sensation to her lower limbs, Grace still managed to get out of bed on her own while we were all out in the hallway discussing her care because we thought she was asleep.
Melissa’s comment stayed on my mind all last week. I thought about it as I packed for my trip. I thought about it as I traveled from Atlanta to Dallas. And I thought about it Saturday morning as I entered the water to swim.
“She’s not built like the rest of us.”
Swimming away from the dock, I thought of Melissa’s words and about Grace, which is nothing new. However, I was also thinking of someone else that I have had the honor of getting to know this year. And that person is Elizabeth Beisel. As we jumped into the water at Lake Ray Hubbard in Dallas, Elizabeth Beisel – a 3-time Olympian – was already several hours into her 10.4 mile swim from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island. Elizabeth was swimming in memory of her father who recently passed away from pancreatic cancer, and the money raised from her epic swim is benefitting Swim Across America. “Clearly, I thought as I swam, “the same came be said about Elizabeth.”
“She’s not built like the rest of us.”
As I made my way toward the first turn buoy with Melissa’s words echoing in my ears and Grace and Elizabeth on my mind, I began contemplating the human qualities that inspire someone to say this about another, “She’s not built like the rest of us.” And then I made the first turn and to my right, I saw something on the shore that I hadn’t paid much attention to before. I saw a lighthouse. And that’s when it hit me.
Some people like Grace and Elizabeth are like lighthouses, resilient in nature and constructed to withstand powerful storms. Some people have a constancy about them, able to radiate light regardless of whether things are calm or turbulent. Some people understand that when they are lost at sea and losing hope, it is the Lighthouse in their life that brings them home. But equally important, when they see another in need of hope and support, they are able to shine a light to help guide others back home as well. I think this selfless act of human reciprocation is the very core of human kindness and perhaps what makes some people different on the inside. I believe it is what causes some people to appear as though they are built differently than the rest. Because guess what? They are.
After I finished my swim on Saturday, I walked by the lighthouse which I swam past for a mile that morning. As a volunteer handed me a towel, I looked up at it and promised myself that I would do my best to live my remaining life just like Grace and Elizabeth. I will try to live my life in a manner in which I can serve as a lighthouse of hope to others. I will try to live my life so that when my time comes, someone might be able to say the same thing about me, “She wasn’t built like the rest of us.”
Here is a video of our trip to Dallas: Amazing Grace Tour – Dallas
“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.” (George Bernard Shaw)
Amazing Grace Tour Update:
It is hard to believe that I just completed the 13th stop on The Amazing Grace Swim Across America Tour – a journey that began 4 months ago on Mother’s Day in Tampa, Florida. The 14th swim will take place this coming Saturday here in Atlanta at Lake Lanier. Please join us if you are able! Although Lake Lanier is the largest lake in Georgia, we will be easy to find. Just follow the light.
Here is a link to information about the Swim Across America – Atlanta event: Swim Across America – Atlanta