Have you ever had a close call, barely averting disaster? I think one reason we old codgers tend to more conservative when it come to personal risk taking is that we have lived long enough to have experienced a number of close calls. We know that life at times can be a matter of inches. We also, as the saying goes, “thank our lucky stars” that we have managed to survive these close calls and to have lived as long as we have.
One close call for me occurred this week on Tuesday when Embry and I were tubing on the Shenandoah River with our granddaughter, Josie, age 10. I have done a lot of canoeing, but this was the first time I had ever floated down the Shenandoah River in an inner tube. In a lot of ways it is easier than a canoe. You just sit there in the inner tube and let the current take you where it wants to. But that also turns out to be the challenge. It is very hard to steer an inner tube. You go where the current takes you.
The outfitters warned us that due to heavy rains the water was two to three feet above normal and very swift. So when we approached the take out spot “just below the mile 11 marker,“ we should maneuver the tubes to be very close to the shore to avoid being carried down a long rapid. Since the takeout spot was “below” mile 11, as in “down stream,” I assumed that after seeing the 11-mile marker, we would have a little room to maneuver before we reached the spot where we needed to get out. The takeout spot was below the marker alright, directly below the sign, which we did not see in time to splash our way as close to the shore as we needed to be. Embry jumped out first, landed on the bottom with barely the necessary depth to allow her to pull her tube and Josie’s to shore. I waited another 10 seconds, which was just long enough to send me swiftly floating toward the first “V,” marking the beginning of the long rapid. I bailed out, lost my footing and desperately grabbed for a rock to try to hold my position, still hanging on to the tube. I could make no progress up stream. I quickly realized that there was no way that Embry could get to me without being washed down the rapids herself. No one was visible on shore.
This is exactly the kind of spot you do not want to find yourself in. I did not fear for my life, however. The water was fairly shallow, and I had on a life jacket. But at the same time I realized that if I did go down the rapid, it would be quite a challenge to make my way back to the outfitters. There was no way I could stumble up stream, fighting a ferocious current, and the shoreline quickly turned into a steep bluff. I was stuck with no obvious solution.
That is when the kayakers appeared as if from nowhere. We had been on the river for over two hours. Except for the family that started at the same time we did (and who were still way up the river), we had hardly seen a soul—maybe two or three tubers, and that was it. Where did these kayakers come from? Four blue boats paddled by fit, mostly 20 to 30-something-year-olds. Two paddlers jumped from their kayaks into the water, grabbed me by my arms and pulled me and my inner tube upstream to safe and secure footing. No problem, all in a day’s work.
So what are the odds that four experienced kayakers would show up at exactly the same time I got into trouble? Maybe during a weekend there would be enough boat traffic so it would not have been that unusual, but this day we had seen virtually no one on the river. And yet here they were, guardian angels, showing up, out of the blue, physically fit and smiling, pulling me out of harms way like it was nothing.
“Glad to help out,” one of the young men said, smiling, as the four of them casually pulled their boats out of the water.
Another one of those “lucky star” moments.
How many of those have you had? I must have had at least a dozen, some of which I remember, but most I have forgotten. We tend to take life for granted, not realizing that the difference between business-as-usual and catastrophe can often be measured in centimeters.
Do you believe in guardian angels?
Life is indeed mysterious and the longer we live the more aware we are of its mystery and the wonder of it all. I naturally thanked my rescuers profusely, still puzzled as to how they could have appeared at the exact moment that they did. Then I remembered a quote from a book I recently read (can’t recall the title) that went something like this: “A coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”