No matter how bad the day can be, or how hard your life . . . never forget to be grateful for the blessings that you do have!
January 1986 ~ I was having a very hard time with my life. My perspective and attitudes were about to be drastically changed by a life shattering event.
I was a single parent of two children and living with my parents even as I struggled to hold part time jobs so that we could move on to our own place. I was separated from my husband, five states away, who wouldn’t pay the promised child support. My daughter was chronically ill, needing full time care and attention, thus the part time jobs. My son was becoming increasingly withdrawn because I had little time or energy left to do much with him. My parents helped all that they could but this world was on my shoulders and it felt as if it was crumbling all around me, too much for me to bear.
I wasn’t in the best mood this particular day. I had been fired from one of my jobs the day before due to having to take my daughter to ER. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse as the day progressed. I had gone to work at my janitorial job at a church. Busy with mopping the recreation hall, I didn’t hear the boss come up behind me. He thought it was a great time to take advantage of me. I swung the mop around and knocked him on his butt, glared down at him, and walked away from that job. I had just come home when I got a call from my husband, shattering my last hopes of reconciliation. I felt helpless, hopeless, and trapped. Filled with overwhelming pain, I ran from the house.
Wrapped in my misery, I kicked at the dust as I walked on the Florida country road; each step a cadence of complaints, fears, and pain that was taking me further along an edge of momentary insanity and depression. I was drowning in self-pity and at this rate it wouldn’t be long before I would find a way to make things worse instead of better. I knew the drill, how to not give in to such feelings . . . and had turned my back on it. I was angry and hurt, feeling fully justified in my tantrum. I had hit a wall and watched it crumple and fall in on me. Instead of looking for a way, I was looking for a way out.
“Stop this! Stop!” a voice, stern and deep, commanded from behind me. “You are needed! Go home, now!”
I turned. No one was there. I sniffled and palmed the tears from my cheek. I felt the hairs on my arm rise in a sudden chill as something push against me and I start running as fast as I could, back to the house.
Rounding the corner with my parent’s home now in sight, I heard a woman’s hysterical screams. My heart slammed in fear as I raced on. More cries and shouts were coming now from behind my parent’s house. I charged up the steps and through the house, a faster route than going around, and came out onto the back decking. I saw a group of people in the yard next door, gathering at the edge of the canal that ended at our two homes. Neighbors were standing there with mouths open in shock. A woman was being held back by another as she screamed again and called out for her child, her nails raking the air as she tried to get to the canal. Another woman lay sobbing on the incline from the canal, pinned beneath someone sitting on her to keep her down. I saw my mother there beside them. She was curled over what looked like a large baby doll in a wet, white dress and I realized that she was busy working CPR on a little girl. I was stunned that no one was moving! There was obviously another child involved. Without thought, I vaulted from the deck and across the yard.
Tossing my glasses aside, I waded into the dark, swampy water. . .
Let me stop here a minute and let you know how much I hated that water. More to the point, I was scared to death of it! Alligators had been known to come up the canal here from the lake. There had been a very large one there one night. His bellowing croak like a giant bullfrog, had kept me from sleeping. Smaller ones were seen once in a while. Of greater concern to me than the gators, were the other known denizens of that swampy area, the water moccasins. The water is so dark that you cannot even see your own hand just below the surface. Anything lurking below it would not be visible either. I never went near the canal and sternly repeated warnings to my children to stay away from it too.
The water was chest high on me as I walked my way slowly forward, sweeping my arms to and fro as I felt for the life I sought. There was a thick coating of green algae growing like grass on the surface. The children must have thought that it was grass and had stepped out into it. I could see open trails filling back in from where the water had recently been disturbed. I headed towards these. The deep, silt mucked bottom sucked at my feet and made it difficult for me to walk as quickly as I felt I should but I knew that if I swam, I may miss the child hidden below the surface.
My mind seemed to have split into two separate entities as I moved through that dangerous water: One screamed and prayed in babbling terror of hidden snakes or gators and of finding a dead child or worse, not finding the child that may yet be saved; and the other which spoke calmly, directing me to go on. I went on as I battled within.
Another woman jumped into the canal, walking just as carefully as I was and coming towards me. We met and began to fan out from each other again. I heard a deep voice calling across the water and looked up to see my father in his row boat coming in from the lake and heading towards us. He encouraged me to keep going, reassured me that he was there too. He knew my fears, and he knew my heart. Seconds felt like hours. My heartbeat echoed loudly in my ears with each sweep of my arms. I lost sight of everything and everybody as I concentrated fully on my search. My foot hit something hard in the muck. It moved and then seemed softer as it became dislodged from my having nudged it. My brain screamed, “Gator!” My soul sang, “It’s the child!” My heart slammed up into my throat and made me gasp. I held my breath and dived below the surface to reach for what my foot had found, praying that my soul was right. I felt a small arm and struggled to pull it free of the muck that refused to release its hold on the child. The other woman joined me then and together we were able to lift the young, lifeless child out of the darkness and bring him to the shore.
The nightmare wasn’t over. Others had taken the boy from us. I tried to catch my breath as I sat on the bank of the canal and stared at the scene around me. The mothers were screaming, crying their grief as others worked frantically to save their children. An ambulance and the police had pulled into the yard. I heard the approach of Life flight as its helicopter blades whipped the air overhead. Noise and confusion assaulted me and became as a physical pain to my overstressed nerves. I took deep breaths and tried to shake off the shadows that still clung to me. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion as I sat there shivering in shock.
“Mom!” the small voice of my daughter cried out to me as she rushed into my arms.
“Are you all right, Mom?” The quiet, concerned voice of my son touched me just as he too now knelt beside me and circled his small arms around us both.
I held them both close in my arms and cried, my heart now filled with prayers of gratitude. A tragedy of true depth had brought me back to my senses and I realized in that moment that I had what I needed most wrapped there in my arms and glowing warmly in my heart. I had been running from them and from life just a short while ago. Life is too precious to waste or to run away from just because it’s not as we would wish it to be. I had lost sight of this truth. I would never willingly walk away from these precious gifts again. In reaching to help another, I had been saved.
Note: I would like to report that the two children survived the drowning, but they did not. They remained in comas for years, too brain damaged to return, and eventually passed. I still grieve for them and their families.