May 30, 2012 | Posted in: Philosophy
One of my favorite 20th century philosophers is Robert Fulghum, the author of Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. He has the most uncanny ability to take ordinary moments in our life and turn them into extraordinary life lessons. In my own way, I think my stories strive for that same sense of contribution.
My chosen career, that of a professional networker, has lent itself to my desire to be a good communicator through spoken and written words. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in front of large rooms of people, speaking and teaching. I’ve also spent large blocks of time writing business trainings (nothing technical, ever, simply because I’m not nerdy enough). Regardless of how important the business information, my trainings are always delivered as a story. Storytelling that delivers life lessons, over business lessons, appeals to me the most and is actually the reason I started my blog. You can say, Inside My Head, is my way to pay tribute to Mr. Fulghum, one of my favorite storytellers of all time.
Here’s a story I’ve wanted to share for a long time.
Summer. 1985. Place. San Carlos, Mexico.
It was a wonderful day. We had close family and good friends visiting us in our little slice of heaven. Clear blue sky. Warm, cobalt sea. Mom. Sis. Her boyfriend, Sean. Our friend, Steve. Our year old daughter. Hubby. Me.
We’d spent the day on our boat doing nothing more than basking in the sun and swimming in and water skiing on the Sea of Cortez. We finished the day by heading out to open water in order to catch the sunset, listen to music, and to ask ourselves the all important question, “Could life, as we know it, get any better than this?!”
We turned off the motor, oohed and ahhhed at the setting sun, and waited with baited breath for that mystical “green flash” as the sun dipped below the horizon. Privately, over our left shoulder, my husband and I also took note of a dark cloud and obvious storm coming our way. Well ahead of the incoming storm, we decided to head back to the marina.
We found our always trusty cabin cruiser had no power. Our engine simply would not turn over. Nothing but the clicking sound a key makes in the ignition. Hmmm. What to do? For those who don’t spend much time boating, conditions in open water can turn bad pretty quickly. This was one of those times.
As mentioned, it was sunset. Early twilight. The wind had ominously picked up. The storm was now headed directly towards us. The water beneath us, at 180 feet, was too deep to throw an anchor. My mother, very reluctant to be on a boat under the best of conditions, was near catatonic even as she pulled out her rosary from heaven know’s were. I found myself speaking as calmly as possible to my mother as I, without assistance from her, put her into her life jacket.
Looking at my husband, who, at the time was strapping our little girl into her life-jacket while securing her in her car seat, could tell he was calm but very concerned. When our eyes met, we both knew we were in trouble. And we knew enough to keep from scaring any of our other-wise-boating-novices about the seriousness of our present condition.
As if on perfect cue, the rain, wind, high seas, and darkness of night, hit our boat all at the same time. To make matters worse, at a quick rate of speed, it was apparent our distressed boat was headed for a distant out-cropping of rocks. Dead calm, but with an intense sense of urgency, I could hear my husband on the radio calling our location and saying, “May Day! May Day! We’ve lost our engine. Send help!” We were headed for disaster and, as if it couldn’t get any worse, it did. At precisely the same moment, my husband and sister were suddenly over-come by gut-wrenching sea sickness.
In quickly assessing my situation I look around to see:
- I’ve got a mother on the floor, paralyzed with fear, rocking and praying, praying and rocking;
- I’ve got a wide-eyed baby girl, incredibly calm and quiet, with not one peep as she witnesses the swirling chaos around her;
- I’ve got two very sick people throwing up over the side of the boat but doing their best to help;
- And, finally, I’ve got two young men, Sean and Steve, both of whom are first timers to Mexico, with little to no boating experience — standing in total silence — wanting to do something but unable to do anything without instruction.
In a comic moment, I find myself thinking, “Funny. Dying isn’t the way I’d planned for us to end our day.”
With just milli-seconds to spare until hitting the rocks, my green with sick husband threw an anchor line out from the bow of the boat and, unbelievably, it bit instantly. Our daughter, still a wide-eyed wonder … my mother still praying … my husband and sis still sick … the only thing going for us at that point was one taut anchor line off the bow and two young men standing at the back of the boat with wooden oars over the stern working heroically [and with great intensity] to keep our boat off the rocks. With no immediate relief in sight, we had no idea how this dire emergency was going to play out.
As to our May Day? Well let’s just say there’s no such thing as a Mexican Coast Guard. Our call for help went unanswered and we were left to fight the forces of nature all on our own. But, of course, our story doesn’t end here.
As quickly as this storm came upon us, and as dire as our situation, nothing quite explains how we were saved.
Out of nowhere a very bright light was coming towards us. It was a boat. White. With two men. Wearing white. One older. One younger. The older with white hair and beard. The younger holding the white light. The sea was absolutely churning, and these guys never appeared even slightly ruffled. They weren’t pitching to and fro. Just completely pleasantly calm. The older gentleman, driving the boat, expertly maneuvered his boat within 15 feet of us. I was close enough to feel his uncanny sense of calm.
Unlike any extraordinary moment I’ve ever experienced before or since, as I sat crouched on the bow of our boat, the younger man took a white rope and tossed it to me. One toss. In a high sea. And, I caught the rope. On the first pass. Really? Yes. Really.
Incredulous, I tied us off (through my own error, I did tie it incorrectly and tore the bow rail off our boat and, miraculously, I did it without doing any harm to my fingers or hands).
Without slowing down and with no hesitation whatsoever, the men who’d come to our rescue, made one minor maneuver, pulled our boat off the rocks while my husband cut the anchor line and, before we knew it, we rag-tag-band-of-seven sat in silence as the answer to our prayers towed us the five miles back to the shelter of the marina.
The men deftly arrived at the marina and remarkably pulled us to an open dock end cap, the solitary slip that lies perpendicular to the rest of the dock. The boys jumped out of the boat and tied us off. The men who’d just finished rescuing us barely slowed down as they turned their boat around. Every interaction with them to this point always happened in seconds, and our marina interaction was no different. I had just enough time to toss their rope back to the young man on the bow before they both smiled at me and nodded their heads as if to acknowledge my gratitude. And with that, they quickly left the marina and slipped silently into the storm and the black of night.
The most interesting thing of all? They never said a word to us. Not one.
They didn’t respond via radio to our distress call. They said nothing as they rescued us. They said not a word when our eyes briefly met in the marina. They showed no interest in slowing down or discussing the situation with us. They didn’t ask for details about how we got into our predicament. The didn’t wait to hear us thank them for rescuing us. They simply smiled. This all knowing, mystical, wise, calm smile. And then they were gone. White boat. White clothes. White light. And all.
As we prepared to leave the marina for the safety of home, we finally looked at the time and were shocked to learn it had been less than two hours since our boat wouldn’t start, since being hit by the storm, since nightfall, since nearly crashing upon the rocks, since being rescued and being towed to our calm harbor.
It’s been 27 years since this experience. Since then, my husband and I have navigated some very stormy seas. Financial seas. Contemplating divorce seas. Death and dying seas. And through it all, we remain calm. We turn our eyes towards the horizon and we look for the bright light. We know that no matter how bad things look, there’s an inexplicable miracle waiting just outside our reach of understanding, and we wait, knowing a calm sea is headed our way.
To this day, whenever I’m at our home in Mexico, there isn’t a time I don’t search the boats and the faces of the men in the marina in hopes of catching a glimpse of the two that rescued us that night. I think it’s because I want to believe they were real men and that absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened that night. That said, I’ve yet to lay eyes on them again. But, the older I get, the memory of these men gains an even tighter hold on me. Something tells me the Divine Plan is always in place and that legions of angels stand guard over all of us. Calm, wonderful, competent angels bathed in white, white light.
So, in the tradition of Mr. Fulghum’s ability to take meaningful life lessons from everyday events that come our way, let me say this:
Strap yourself in. Hold on tight. Know forces bigger than us are at work. Miracles happen. Calm seas ahead. I promise.