Before their stay, I’d only briefly met the young man and woman who rented out the lakefront tiny home on our property through an online platform. Now I know them very well. It’s amazing how near-death experiences bond people.
They checked in Tuesday evening two weeks ago, and all seemed calm with their visit. We try to leave our guests to their private little space. Toward Wednesday evening, after I’d been socked away in my office for most of a nine-counseling-session day, I heard yelling outside. Neighbors? I wondered. Again, the yelling. It sounds too close, I thought, walking over to throw open the front door. There stood a young woman covered in lake weeds, the wind whipping her long hair like a vision of Aphrodite. “He’s . . . still in the water!” she cried.
“What do you mean? What happened?” I shouted.
“He fell in!”
And I began to realize we had a drowning man in our lake.
“CALL 911!” I yelled as my husband Mike emerged from our apartment. My nephew Tim and his wife Lucero, who live in our upstairs unit, heard the commotion from the porch and rushed to the scene.
“He’s over there!” the woman yelled, pointing to a place right of the pier, just past the weeds. My heard thudded with fear that she meant he was over there under the water. How will we find a man submerged in the muddy lake? I despaired.
Then I spied beautiful thing: in the quickly-fading evening light, just above the water’s surface, a small face. He was afloat!
Dashing back to the house for a hoe and my wader boots, I yelled, “We’re gonna form a human chain!” I don’t know where those words came from. They were just there, along with the idea of working together to pull the man out of the weedy depths of Lake Sparling.
And we did. I walked out till the water was waist-high to extend the hoe, holding the young woman’s hand, who held Lucero’s hand, and so on. Close enough now to see the man’s mouth, I noticed bubbles emerging, and realized he’d taken water. We’d arrived none too soon. “The weeds are around my feet,” he said weakly.
“Don’t worry. We’ll pull you out,” I said. Sure enough, the human chain easily provided the power to pull a drowning man to shore.
The two had been out on the windy lake in our kayak and canoe, had both capsized, and due to hoodies and double layers of clothing, fought to stay afloat. Somehow they made it to shore where she was able to walk out and get help.*
He spent some time trying to get warm in our bathtub, after which paramedics whisked him away for a thorough hospital checkup.
The next day Roland and Claire, as I now know them, came to thank us. I said, “Dude, God has a plan for your life. He wants you around for something.”
Roland said, “My mother tells me that.”
Later said mother sent us a message: “I want to say a special thank you for your part in saving my son’s life. I will forever be grateful to you all.”
Not to over-spiritualize, but I can’t help but see the lesson. If I’d tried to save a drowning man alone, he’d have taken me with him; but the strength of a human chain prevailed. We can’t possibly solve our current problems. Long-standing racial tensions mount as COVID resurges, facing us with hard choices between freedom and safety. The politicization of these problems worsens them. Let’s form a human chain, then. Not to kumbaya you, but we really will accomplish so much more together.
*Since then we have tightened the rules of boating on our lake and provided a signed consent that boaters must wear life preservers at all times.