A vast majority of our lives are underscored by a predictable and largely harmonious cadence. This lulls us into a false sense of security and leads us to believe there is order in the world. But every once in a great while, perhaps once in a lifetime, we are handed a situation we have no context for and are provided with no way to explain or even comprehend what just happened. In a grasping-at-straws attempt to explain the unexplainable, we’ll toss logic aside and our hands in the air and write-off the situation as an act of fate, a miracle, or divine intervention at work.
I have experienced a couple of these instances in my lifetime, but one stands out because of its truly bizarre nature. You know that feeling you get when you try to rationalize the time frame of eternity or conceptualize the size of the universe? My mind bends similarly when I tell this story:
We are a family of swimmers. It started with my Dad as a Milwaukee County lifeguard in the ‘60s and has extended well beyond swimming away our childhood summers in the backyard pool. On special occasions, we’d take family trips to Doctor’s Park, a popular swimming beach along the shores of Lake Michigan.
I recall one of those trips vividly. I was about seven years old and fairly adventurous when it came to swimming in open water. It was a beautiful summer day, but few people were in the water. (Perhaps, they knew then what we know now about the water quality in Milwaukee.) About 25 yards offshore stood a man in shoulder-deep water. I wanted to be the furthest one out in the water and proceeded to wade out to him. When I stood parallel with the man, the water was up to my shoulders, so I went a little further in order to officially beat him. I could still touch the sandy bottom with my toes, so I assumed I was safe. I wasn’t aware of the undertow slowly sweeping me down the shoreline.
I turned toward the beach to celebrate my victory and noticed my Dad was no longer in sight. Instead, a large rock outcropping was directly in front of me, blocking my view of the shore and my Dad, who was busy chasing after five small children and hadn’t yet noticed his sixth was missing.
I tried to bob my way back in, but the water was suddenly very deep. I panicked and began struggling against the waves. My weak attempt to dog paddle was no match for the open water. Wave after wave crashed over my head, forcing me under. I’d surface and gasp for a breath, only to be met with another wave filling my lungs with more water.
Here’s where the story starts to get odd.
I recall seeing a woman standing alongside me, holding a baby in her arms. I tried calling out to her for help, but she didn’t hear me. I tried reaching for her, but there was nothing to grab onto.
I continued to struggle against the waves for what felt like hours. Finally, I got so tired, I decided to stop struggling and let myself fall asleep. The second I made the decision to stop swimming, I felt a pair of hands beneath my armpits, lifting my upper body completely out of the water. I remember gliding vertically over the surface, then getting dropped off in knee-deep water a few yards offshore. I was too exhausted to stand, so I crawled onto the sand and collapsed on a towel next to my Dad. He asked me what I was doing. After a few minutes of hyperventilating, I wildly exclaimed, “I almost drowned!”
My Dad sat next to me in shocked silence. He hadn’t seen me come in until I crawled ashore and my rescuer didn’t stick around to make sure I was okay. Later, when my Dad was explaining the situation to my Mom, he said, “I had no idea she was missing. One minute, she was in the water. The next, she’s crawling onto the beach.” Of course, my Mom got mad at my Dad and we ended up spending a lot more time at the mall than the beach that summer.
This is a pretty heady story and requires the right audience, so I’ve been selective with whom I tell it to (until now). Each time I do, I’m asked to rationalize its meaning. After careful consideration, I’ve come up with two possible explanations for what happened: I was either saved by an illusive Lake Michigan merman, or my guardian angel decided to keep me around a little longer. I believe the latter, but you can never be too sure of what the city runoff has created out there.
In all seriousness, I don’t know why I was given a second chance, what it means, or if any of it was real to begin with. Perhaps I accidentally ingested some potent hallucinogens and dreamt up the entire thing. Not all of life’s lessons have an easy answer.