In the meantime, here’s one of my best stories — or, at least the one that seems to get repeated most frequently at family get-togethers. 🙂 For those who follow this blog, it’s a re-run from one of my Memoir Monday posts.
It’s the closest I’ve ever come to dying.
The setting: The Kern River of Southern California, Class III/IV whitewater rapids.
I was in high school, and it was spring break. It was my first time rafting, and I basically held on for dear life as we weaved through protruding boulders, the nose of the raft diving down in despair, then lurching up in redemption and me, constantly praying I would stay in the boat.
God chose not to answer that prayer. Correction: He did answer that prayer, the answer was just “No.”
It happened after I succumbed to a dumb group decision. There were six of us in the raft, plus a guide, and my younger sister was the only one with any common sense. The only one brave enough to get out.
It went something like this:
Guide: “So, who wants to go back and surf that hole?”
My dad: “Who wants to what?”
Guide: “Surf the hole. We turn the raft around, paddle like crazy upstream until we hit that hole in the rapids where it’s swirling into a tight spiral, and if we hit it just right, we’ll float on top for a while, without moving anywhere.”
General, wavering nods indicated an almost unanimous consensus. “No, thanks. I don’t want to,” my younger sister stated boldly.
“Okay, that’s cool,” said the guide. “We’ll just drop you off on the shore over there, and pick you up afterwards.”
We paddled over to a little inlet, my sister jumped out, and the rest of us headed for the hole.
My dad had been sitting opposite me, and the next thing I remember was seeing his full, six-foot frame lunging over me, hurling me backwards off the raft’s edge into the raging river.
Like an ice cube dropped into a glass of Coke, I was plunged downward before my lifejacket raised me up toward the surface. But instead of finding oxygen, my head bumped against something hard at the top.
I was directly under the raft.
All the safety precautions announced at the beginning of the trip went rushing downstream with the current.
I swam to the left.
I swam to the right.
I felt around in every direction, and couldn’t find an escape route.
Well, this is it, I resigned. I’ve always wondered how I was going to die, and now I have my answer.
Oddly enough, I felt a strange calmness. A peace, as if it would be okay if I did die in that moment.
After contemplating death while fully submerged, my wits came about me, and I realized I had to stop floundering, pick a direction, and just swim. I gripped the bottom of the raft, hurled myself to the left, and
“There you are!!” was the first exclamation I heard before the guide grabbed the shoulders of my life jacket and flung me into the raft.
I lay there, heaving, gasping.
Glad to be alive.
My younger sister was on the shore sobbing, convinced that she would have to tell Mom that I had drowned in the Kern River.
Even the guide was surprised to see me. He later confessed that he was thisclose to jumping into the rapids to look for me — and apparently guides never do that.
The peace I felt when I was sure I was going to die remains inexplicable. It had to have been supernatural. God could have let me get swept away that day, but
“The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you.”
~ Psalm 116:5-7, NIV
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