23 April 2009


most are familiar with the life of jacques-yves cousteau, 1910-1997, whose long and distinguished career included service in the french navy, invention of open-circuit SCUBA gear, oceanographic research, marine conservation and public education. his long-time collaborator and presumed successor was his son philippe, 1940-1979. Philippe's life was cut short when his PBY Catalina flying boat crashed in the tagus river near lisbon, portugal. another cousteau son, jean-michele, stepped forward to assume philippe's role. philippe's own children, philippe jr. and alexandra, went on to form earthecho international, devoted to the conservation and restoration of the world's oceans.

i was 32 years old and my son was 2 years old when philippe sr. died. his passing touched me deeply, both because i was deeply involved in conservation and environmental education, and also because i identified with the deep father-son bond. so it will come as no surprise that i was moved to tears when i first heard jacques speak the eulogy he composed to philippe after his passing. the text can be found at earthecho's blog, to which they kindly provided a link (scroll to the bottom of the "red sea" entries). here it is --

Pursuing Rainbows

i will always remember that day of july 1963 when you joined the conshelf expedition along the shad rumi reef, in the red sea. the sun was setting when you climbed aboard the calypso from the launch that had driven you from port sudan airport. but i would not give you time to relax. i was too impatient to show you our "village under the sea" before it became too dark. hastily, we both donned our aqualungs, and slowly, sensually, we submerged into the welcoming water, as warm as our blood. when we started an unforgettable stroll with slow strokes of our long stretched legs and breathing deep lungsful of air, i kept your hand in mine to guide you from "starfish house" where six oceanauts were having dinner, to the onion shaped diving saucer garage, to the "tool house", the "fish farm", to the "deep cabin" where we observed the two black masked oceanauts go to bed, and to the anti-shark cages strewn here and there as emergency shelters. i introduced you to jules, the great barracuda who had adopted us. i showed you the cave where the large "bump fish" went to sleep at night, and of course, we met the inevitable sharks who kept cruising around the village. twilight was turning to sheer darkness, our structures became eerie shadows, the fish were just moving pieces of the sea. i was still holding your hand when we returned to the ladder. i felt strangely proud not of what we had achieved, but because our dreams were always shared so intimately.

three years ago, i found myself sitting near you in the cockpit of our catalina, the seaplane you had equipped especially for oceanography and for diving. from years of gliding, hang-gliding, piloting planes and helicopters, ballooning, you had acquired an unusual expertise. now you were giving me a ride to the mexican island of isabella, in the pacific. taking off in sheaves of water, the whole plane was an extension of your body, the roar of the motors was an expression of your joy, the clouds that dotted your sky were just other forms of water like our own flesh. i looked at you, my guide in the sky as i have been your guide in the sea. i saw your shining face, proud to have something to give back to me, and i smiled, because i knew that pursuing rainbows in your plane, you would always seek after the vanishing shapes of a better world. i love you. JYC.

there can be no greater pain in life, than the pain of a parent whose child has died. and no greater pride and tender love, that that of parent for child.

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