Swimming with the Dead

Have you ever felt that the sense of community where you live is eroding? Have you ever felt disconnected from those around you?

A thirty-six- year- old woman takes a nine-year-old neighbor down a slide at a public pool on a hot, Sunday afternoon.

When he surfaces, she does not.

He tells at least one of several lifeguards on duty but he is ignored.

On Tuesday night, her dead body floats to the surface of that same pool, the pool where she died after sliding into the water, the pool where she has been for almost three days as others swam, as lifeguards guarded, as health inspectors checked off their lists and as no one noticed a dead woman lying at the bottom of the pool.

She is finally discovered by trespassers, young adults entering the pool after hours for a stolen swim.

Made for TV movie? Feature film? Plot of the new Ted Dekker novel?


The headlines in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for the past few days.

Born in Haiti, this mother of five lived not far from the pool and was there watching a neighbor’s child. The whole situation is cloudy with questions. Apart from the ones being asked about the pool staff and the health inspectors, one has to wonder about an entire community.

Where were the people in Marie Joseph’s life? How did the nine-year-old boy get home? Why didn’t his parents wonder where Marie had gone or notice that she never came home? What about her children for those few days? Her boyfriend of eight years said he learned about her drowning from the television news. Had he noticed her missing? And could dozens of people swim in a pool for nearly three days and no one – no one notice a dead body at the bottom?

When Cain killed Abel there were no witnesses. Abel bled out in a field while humanity was barely a zygote on planet earth.

But Cain was brought to trial by the God who sees – El Roi. He told Cain, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Genesis 4:10b.

God heard the dead brother’s cry for justice.

Much later in humanity’s story, God tells Noah this: “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.” Genesis 9:5

We are accountable for one another.

This isn’t a calling we can choose or disregard. It is the calling laid upon us by our Creator. I didn’t know Marie Joseph but her life had value because God says it did and we should be deeply disturbed by the fact that it slipped beneath the surface of a pool and disappeared and no one noticed.

Earlier in Genesis 4, in the story of Cain and Abel, God sees that Cain is walking around angry and calls him on it. He tells Cain this: ““Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

This is God giving Cain a chance to check himself before anger and resentment blossom into murder.

Marie Joseph’s community had opportunities to check itself before they reached the point of swimming over dead bodies without taking note. We have that opportunity every day.

One day last week, I made two purchases at two different stores and during the course of those transactions, neither store clerk spoke with me nor made eye contact. These days, items are scanned in by computer and I don’t actually hand over money, I simply slide my card into a box on my side of the counter. For these two people, that apparently alleviated them of the necessity of interacting with me socially on even the most basic level.

Both times, I refused to accept the exchange. Both times, I stood and waited, knowing I could walk away with my purchase, feeling kind of silly but somehow sensing that it was important to stand this ground. Each time, I waited on my side of the counter until the clerk looked into my eyes and asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Yes,” I replied each time. “I’m a person. You’re a person. I just wanted to say ‘Thank you and have a nice day.””

I felt stupid doing it. I felt old and crotchety. I wondered if this is the first sign that I’m becoming an “old-timer” given to ranting about how things were in “my day.” I’m sure each clerk rolled his or her eyes when I walked away. I mean, really, haven’t we eliminated the need for those silly little human exchanges?

At the time, I wasn’t trying to take any noble stand on the part of humanity. I just felt alarm bells ringing in my spirit and felt bothered enough not to just accept the lack of meaningful exchange even on such a simple level.

Then, Marie Joseph’s dead body floated in a busy pool for nearly three days and I realized why I’d felt alarmed.

Each of us needs to stand before the tank of a society that every day values human life just a little less and refuse to budge. We need to stand and say that every human life has value because God says it does.

We need to say that the everyday exchanges between people have value. We need to notice people. We need to demand to be noticed. We need to accept the responsibility we have for one another. We have to shout “We will be held accountable for one another!”

By the time Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” sin had already taken over his spirit and clouded his mind so that a dead body could swim in it and he couldn’t see it.

We need to act every day to keep our hearts and minds so clear that we still see the people drowning around us so we can intercede on their behalf.

God hears them crying out. Ask Him for His ears and for His eyes to see the community in which you live and then stand before the tanks and refuse to move until someone notices.

Don’t be a person who can swim over a dead body and not notice. It might be easier to become than person than we think.

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    The Conversation

  1. HisFireFly says:

    How can we be so hard and so blind?

    I hadn’t heard of this — it sends me to my knees…

  2. Carmen says:

    You’re so right about that. People are allowing themselves to be desensitized to the point where nothing else exists but them. They speak to others on little machines, play games on machines, watch others on machines. There is very little personal interaction anymore. The timing of this is interesting as I was just looking at myself and wondering about my personal interactions. They seem to be getting harder, and I’m not sure why. It feels like something is somehow slipping away. So sad about the woman…so hard to understand!

  3. Karin says:

    It might be easier to become that person than we think! So true! Every one of us has that capability. I pray the Lord would fill us with compassion and empathy towards all we meet on a daily basis! At my old age now I initiate the greetings and start the small talk…but I did grow up with etiquette that said the younger should greet the older first. I’m just contrary that way, lol!! Blessings and keep up your excellent posts!

  4. How true. How sad. Oh that our eyes would be open to all those around us who are drowning in their sin everyday!

  5. My first response is “How can such an outrageous thing be?” My second is, “Lord, open my eyes that I might see and not pass by those You’ve placed in front of me.” thanks, Lori