Monday, May 01, 2006
It was 1976, just after I'd broken up with the love of my life who had gotten into dealing drugs. I was on RCA Beach. It was the first sunny weekend in April after a storm. The six foot surf was too rough to go bodysurfing. There were other interesting things to watch; people were hangliding from the cliffs, landing on the remote beach. Guessing I was the only person watching, when I noticed that the guy who was hangliding and trying to land on the beach was about to land in crotch-deep surf. So I got up and ran the full length of the beach to help him out.
It was a nude beach, and the seven or eight other people on the beach mildly looked up to see me running nakedly by.
By the time I'd waded into the surf, the guy had been already been caught in the first few waves. I swam up to the glider, climbing over the wires to get close to the person. How to unbuckle him wasn't obvious, except for the front two buckles. So I removed his gloves so he could unbuckle himself. Because the next large wave was coming, I only had a few moments to do something for him before I had to get out of the way of being caught in the hanglider before the next wave. The second time I got close to him, asking him,"How do I unbuckle you?" He panicked and said, "Save me!" and tried to pull me under with him, so I had to swim away. Each time he was being pulled further out by undertow of six foot waves on the surface of his hang glider. The third time I got a good look at him under water and found that he was hopelessly tumbled and wrapped in the glider's lines. I didn't have a knife.
After swimming away from the oncoming wave, I looked back to the beach and saw there were a half dozen people still on shore, watching us. I remembered that I had earlier decided not to go swimming because the six foot surf was too rough. I was already far out almost to the reef where breakers start. My adrenalin was waning and I didn't have a knife to cut the guy free.
I thought the guy was going to die. I also realized that I might need to be saved if I continued trying to help him when I could do no more. I abandoned my self-appointed task and began to swim to shore.
The people on the shore thought I knew the guy. When people watching on shore saw me start to swim back without the guy, they figured out that I didn't have a knife to cut him free. They found a knife among themselves. By the time I made it to shore another person had begun to swim out who was trained in lifesaving and had a knife. The guy in the hang glider was very lucky. Just after his hanglider got caught on the reef, the other lifesaver was there, just in the nick of time.
But I didn't know that yet. By the time I stumbled onto the shore, people still standing on the beach, watching the guy with the knife swimming out. I was angry with the young, fit bystanders. The surf was so rough; why were they all just watching us drown as if it were TV? If they could swim, why weren't they out there helping the life saver or to bring in the hanglider itself? At my admonishments, almost everyone jumped into the surf. I stood on the shore with a pregnant woman who told me if I hadn't have jumped in first, they wouldn't have figured out that I needed a knife.
I stood there later, wrapped up in a towel, looking at this hanglider guy curled up like a cocoon worm that everyone had dragged onto shore. Someone was building a fire to dry us off. Someone was taking off the guy's wet clothes and getting a blanket. Someone else was hiking up the cliff to call an ambulance.
I was thinking about all the other people in my life that I had ever tried to save. I was realizing that here was the first person who I had to accept could be dead because I made the conscious choice at a point of self-preservation. Fortunately, I made the right choice. But without the others, the guy wouldn't have survived. If I had not gone into the surf first, that second lifesaver would have been where I was, also without a knife.
It was a great lesson in boundaries for me.
Posted by Franis Engel at 5/01/2006