“Cut it – stop – STOP!” Kathy’s urgent pleas meant business; I pulled back on the boat’s throttle and glanced over my shoulder. Two inflated tubes, one carrying her husband and the other her father, drifted lazily over the side wake as the boat idled to a halt.
“Trouble, TROUBLE! Pull him in – pull him in!” boomed Nick, Kathy’s husband.
I shivered inside as adrenaline coursed through my veins, thrusting me into high gear.
“Get him over here – pull him this way, Kath.” I hopped over beach towels and ski ropes to the back, where my husband's tube approached the boat.
Fred’s ashen face seemed terror-stricken as our eyes met. His mouth quivered with pain and he gasped for air while fumbling to unfasten the buckles of his life vest. “I can’t breathe….”
We all knew my husband had a weak heart – he’d been diagnosed several years before. But he continued to live life to the full as an overgrown kid who refused to stop playing. I leaned over the boat and cradled his head in my left hand. Think clearly, I told myself. Don’t fall apart; this could be “the big one.” Make good decisions. Focus.
Passion consumed me. Fred desperately needed my most intensely courageous attitude, inspired thought, and compassionate response. My entire soul – mind, will, and emotions – lunged into action. I must think, say, and do the right thing.
“I’m alright…” Fred hissed in a low whisper. Gasping, he threw his head more deeply onto my hand and pulled the life vest open. I draped myself directly in front of his face in order to gather facts that a first responder in an ambulance might need to know.
“Do you still hurt? Where? Does it burn or ache or sting? Is the pain getting worse or better?” He couldn’t answer. Why didn’t I bring my cell phone along?
Could he relax knowing that I was there? Could he trust our thirty-five years of marriage to prepare me for this moment? A fire raged in my soul as I stretched myself over the edge of our boat, my soul aflame with a mixture of hope and dread.
Then it dawned on me: I wasn’t alone. This wasn’t about me. Lord! Kathy and Nick, alert and tense, hovered behind me.
“Are you okay, Dad?” I read the worry etched in Kathy’s eyes.
“Here…let me help…do you want to try to get into the boat?” Fred reached for Nick's arm, relieved that another man understood.
A couple of graceful seagulls - supernaturally placed airborne scouts – swooped overhead. Sunlight sparkled like prisms on the choppy water, branding me with the reality of the moment. This wasn’t about being in control in a moment of panic. This was about freedom from fear…and soul connection.
By this time Fred was standing in the boat, taking deep breaths. The boat rocked gently; water sloshed with a cha-chum, cha-chum, beating a rhythm against the hull. Fred stumbled toward the driver’s seat. “You’re not driving this boat! I’m driving,” I demanded. Why don’t we DO something; take him to an emergency room?
The gulls returned, this time soaring even closer to the boat. They gracefully dipped into our realm from their lofty perspective to chatter in our faces. Don’t be so controlling. It’s not the first time something like this has happened.
Glancing from face to face, I asked, “What do you think we should do?”
All eyes turned toward Fred at once, as if expecting him to make an executive decision. “I’m better now…why don’t you kids go on the tubes, and I’ll be the watcher?”
Their voices chimed together: “Are you sure?”
I sighed. “Okay, whatever you think…”
The three of us looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. It was more important for Fred to maintain the status quo than succumb to either panic or division. Perhaps he sensed something we didn’t know – and could soar above the circumstances, like the seagulls.
“Okay then, get ready ‘cause I’m gonna cream you this time,” Nick shouted as he cannon-balled off the side into the water.
“That’s what you think; you’d better get ready!” Kathy yelled back, diving off the other side.
Fred settled his sunglasses atop his blanched cheeks, breathed deeply, rubbed the tightness in his chest, and grinned.
What is this all about? Healing…soul freedom…? I prayed to that end while the waves sloshed and the seagulls cackled and the boat roared back into action.
Note: This is a true story; only names have been changed. It's been a week since the incident, and I'm still praying.
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