It was a tragedy waiting to happen. The boys were gathered around the concrete reservoir of the irrigation canal near the golf course. What is it about water that attracts boys so? They will wander for miles just to have a chance to dangle their feet in a tiny stream; will make stick boats to float in puddles that are more mud than puddle. The bodies of water seem to call their name from miles away. In that long ago time when the episode I’m thinking about tonight occurred, there weren’t so many restrictions placed on children. They roamed their neighborhoods, building forts in groves one day and hiking across town the next. Neighbors watched out for them; strangers corrected misbehavior. It seemed, without doubt, a more innocent time. There were dangers, nonetheless.
So, the boys played in the little reservoir, the place where that particular canal descended underground for at least two miles. As they dropped pieces of debris into the swirling water, every particle of the flotsam was drawn inexorably downward, to disappear under the road without a sign of return. Even so, they had no fear. The youngest boy was four, the oldest eight, and they were invincible. The little vessels they floated into the water, however…they were doomed. Suddenly though, in the midst of their revelry – disaster! The four-year old got too close to the edge and into the swirling water he toppled. He couldn’t swim; couldn’t even scream because of the water in his mouth. The playground of water that moments ago had been swirling little bits of sticks and paper for his amusement, now had the youngster in its grip. It sucked him down, deeper and deeper. Within seconds, he was under water and in peril of being drawn underground to a certain death. The oldest boy of the group thought quickly and jumped into the concrete canal, right before it descended into the reservoir, where he could stand without the water pulling him down too. Reaching underwater as far as he could, he gripped the flailing arm of the little one. There was no way he was letting go! The water tugged hard, but he tugged harder, bringing the gasping small-fry to surface and almost flinging him onto the hard ground beside the canal. The little fellow was half-drowned and bleeding from a cut on his foot, caused by broken glass at the bottom, five feet down…but he was alive! The frightened little guy was soon delivered, dripping wet, to his horrified mother and peace reigned again. Well, except for her ranting, and a few new edicts about appropriate play areas being issued…
It happened over fifty years ago. I will never forget it. Terror sticks in your memory. So does gratitude. But time also passes and circumstances change. The older boy grew up, as did I, and he married young, going into the military immediately thereafter. One might say that he jumped into the deep water of his own volition, but however you describe it, the current had him in its power. One disappointment after another, with a volatile marriage, led him into deeper water. He thought he saw something that would help. The bottle was a false hope, but by the time he figured that out, he was caught in the tight grip of that whirlpool, too. Alcoholism sucks everyone in the vicinity down to the bottom, inflicting wounds as it swirls them around.
I can’t count the number of times I have attempted to reach out and rescue my rescuer. But, there was never a hand to catch onto; the man didn’t want to be rescued. Then suddenly, after a number of years of disastrous living, aborted relationships, lost jobs, and court dates, he was at my door. I felt his grip in mine. Finally, I could rescue him! It was a false hope. Mere weeks later, he again succumbed to the siren song of the liquor and the draw of the dives, where most are also foundering, but still are able to convince their peers that it’s not really a bad situation at all; that no one is really drowning and all is well in their world. Of course, every night, when he leaves the camaraderie of the drowning crowd, and stumbles into his own room, alone, the truth hits again and he is overcome.
He saved me. Why can’t I save him? I’ve struggled with that, lying awake in the dark for many nights. I still haven’t found an answer with which I am satisfied. I know that all of us have a free will, with which we make choices for our life path. I know that until he chooses to accept the help offered, or makes his way out himself, he will suffer the consequences of the maelstrom. I still live in hopes that someone will reach to him and find a hand ready to hold on for dear life. I will keep praying.
Again and again, as I walk through this life, I have realized that many others agonize over the same issues. We all have friends or family members who are lost in the maze of choices they’ve made. If nothing else, I’ve come to recognize that I can’t fix life for any of them. I am, by nature, a problem solver and allowing others to work through their issues is difficult, almost painful, for me. I am learning patience. I am also learning to have faith. There is One who really can save, who actually knows man from the inside out. His time-table isn’t always convenient for me; He doesn’t always seem to move in the same time zone in which I do. Still, I think His hands reaching down into the chaos might have a better effect than my inept, clumsy efforts.
I’ll wait. Maybe you can wait with me.
“He has made everything beautiful in His time.”
“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”
(Helen Keller~American author and educator~1880-1968)