The poetic, playful and prophetic musings of quintessential voices trying to keep up with life

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

(Almost) Drowning: Reflections on one bad decision

I almost died last week.

I was visiting my girlfriend, Lisa, in Michigan and she, her best friend Bea, our good friend Jeremy, and I decided to jump off Blackrocks into Lake Superior. The area was quiet water, tucked in a completely clear water cove. Lisa, Jeremy, and I had already done it a few days prior, much to my hesitance, but we lived through it, so we decided to take Bea.

It started like many traumatic events do. Bea described the day as jovial - we were laughing and joking, soaking up the sun, enjoying the day. They even convinced me to dive off the rocks.

There were three ways to get out of the water once you were in it: wuss out and walk to the beach, climb the rocks back up, or swim around the side of the peninsula and walk up some big rocks (see picture) to get back to the starting point. We chose the third option when we had jumped the other day, but because of the waves we had been climbing the rock on this day.

But Bea is an adventurer, the kind who pushes people out of their comfort zone sometimes. She's in ROTC, placed 10th in track nationals in two events (one of them was a marathon), and although she's probably only 90 pounds the girls is quite strong.

Bea wanted to swim around the peninsula. She went by herself a couple of times to try it, but got freaked out and came back. On Lisa and I's last jump, Bea convinced us to swim with her. Jeremy's ears were full of water and he decided to stay put.

As we were swimming around the peninsula, Lisa at one point exclaimed, "Look how big these waves are! There are waves in these waves!" We should have taken it as a warning sign, but instead we forged ahead. I was in front and because I'm cautious by nature, every few seconds I turned around to yell at the other two to hurry up. I got to the rocks, timed the wave right, and walked up to the top of it.

"She's walking on water!" Lisa said, much to Bea's delight.

Next, it was Lisa's turn. She got up on the rock just fine, but within seconds a wave came and pushed her back off.

I should stop and explain what was behind the rock we were getting up on: huge, massive rocks. Rocks that we couldn't climb up on. Rocks that we didn't want to hit.

As Lisa slipped off the rock, she looked up at me and I saw in her eyes an expression I had never see before and hope to never see again: terror. That was the moment we knew we were in trouble.

She managed to get back up on the rock and told me repeatedly that she was fine. As we turned our attention to Bea, we became more worried. Bea never even made it close to climbing up the rock we were standing on. As a wave carried her past the rock, Lisa bent down and grabbed her hand, most likely literally saving Bea's life. Bea was in a panic, not able to move at all, and Lisa held her through probably three or four waves until Bea slipped out of her grip. The next wave that came pushed Lisa and I both back into the water. It sent Lisa straight for a rock, which her head just narrowly missed.

I grabbed Bea, worried that her panic would inhibit her ability to swim. Bea had, at some point, began yelling for help, but the waves crashing on the rocks covered her cries. I held Bea for a moment, until we both realized that we wouldn't be able to swim back to the rock if we were clinging to each other. As we let go, we looked up to see the Lisa had gotten back on the rock and was safe. The waves had calmed. Relieved, we both swam back to the rock and climbed up, finally safe.

Jeremy had noticed our absence and had come looking for us after we didn't return. He saw the second half of our misadventure, and was about to jump in just as we rescued ourselves. None of us have much memory of the last bit of almost drowning, but together we pieced together the story.

Two seconds into safety, Lisa started laughing. Hysterically. I looked up at her, confused, until I realized that everyone handles trauma differently, and Lisa was a laugh-er. Eventually we all dissolved into giggles and took a few pictures to document the experience.

Now I'm not a very controversial person. I don't typically get in the middle of debates, as I don't like to argue. (I'm gay though, right? So sometimes controversy happens accidentally.) But I have some potentially controversial theological things to say about this situation.

Just as I don't believe God made those huge waves almost kill us, I also don't believe God calmed them. I don't believe God makes a habit of controlling the elements. I don't think God sends hurricanes or tornadoes, nor do I believe God saves some people from them sometimes when God doesn't think it's their time to die, while leaving others to die because it is "their time."

This isn't to say I don't believe God wasn't present the day we almost drowned. I absolutely believe God was there, helping us remain calm. I don't believe God calmed the waves; instead, I believe God calmed us. Lisa describes almost hitting her head on the rock as completely peaceful. Bea, after a few very tense moments, calmed down completely and swam herself to safety.

We all left Blackrocks that day knowing that people die doing what we did. All those newspaper articles I've read about drownings suddenly make sense. I don't believe the people who have died in those events died because God decided it was their time. I don't subscribe to "everything happens for a reason" theology. Instead, I believe God desires life. I believe God desires us to live fully - all of us - for a long time.

I also believe we can let God help us. I don't believe God ordains bad, but that God can help us to live better, help us to stay calm, and help us through waves.

I don't believe that God chose to save me because "it's not my time to die yet." I have a hard time believing it's ever anyone's time to die. But I will say that living through that experience helps put the shortness and frailty of life into perspective. We are not as strong as we sometimes like to believe. We are not stronger than some of life's waves, physical and otherwise. What we can do is remain calm, level headed, and try to keep swimming.

What are your waves in life? Misadventures? How do you make sense of them?

Warmly, Kelsey


  1. This is so scarey. I can't swim and adventure is not my thing. Whatever one may feel about your time or whatever God's plan is, I'm sure glad you got out of there safely. Don't be doing this again. Love you much.

  2. Our son-in-law's nephew drowned in a big lake in Nebraska last week. After rafting with his children (all wearing life jackets), he went back out without one to retrieve a lost ball. A sudden storm came up. He leaves five children and a disabled wife. So this is a very scary story. I'm glad you are all safe. Adventure is good but safety is important!


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