(a true story)
As an eleven-year-old boy, I loved comic books. Oh, and Star Trek — I wished I were a Vulcan. I wanted super powers and, more importantly, to be important to something, to matter.
Well, our neighbors had a swimming pool, and one summer they told us we could use it while they were gone on vacation. Way cool — I was over there several times a week. But one day in particular will always be indelibly imprinted on my brain.
The day was warm, and the water was refreshing. I had just popped up in the shallow end of the pool when all of a sudden I heard splashing in the deep end.
It was my mother, slapping at the water on one side and then the other. “What is she doing?” I wondered. And then Doh! — I remembered that while my mother could swim, she wasn’t particularly good at it. She must have panicked and was now flailing about wildly, right in the middle of the deepest part of the pool. Why was she even in the deep end?
Fortunately, I knew enough not to just swim over to try to help her — a drowning person will take you down with them unless you are very careful. My mother weighed way more than I did; I wouldn’t have stood a chance.
So instead I pushed through the water toward the side of the pool. I was in a hurry, and that water felt like molasses, resisting me every inch of the way. Finally I reached the edge; I hopped out, ran up the side of the pool to the ladder in the deep end, and got in again.
Hanging onto the ladder, I reached out as far as I could. She was way out there, splashing frantically, gasping — I wasn’t sure I could reach her. I held out my hand, trying to get it underneath hers as she slapped at the water again and again. Then, success! I caught the tips of her fingers with the tips of my own, then lifted and slowly pulled her over to the side, careful not to lose that hold on those fingertips, guiding her hands to the safety of the pool edge.
For almost a minute she just held on to the edge of the pool, coughing and gasping. She had indeed taken in some water. That’s when it hit me: I had saved her life. Nobody else had heard her distress. If I hadn’t intervened, she couldn’t have lasted much longer, and would never have made it to safety on her own. There was no question — she would have died in short order.
Whoa — I had saved a life! How many people can truly say that they have saved a life, that because of their actions somebody who surely would have died did not die after all. I felt a rush of emotion — I, who generally felt that I hardly mattered to anyone, suddenly felt that I was a hero, that I had instantly and unexpectedly been granted membership, in a small but incredibly important way, to an elite circle of distinguished individuals. In my young mind it almost seemed that Batman and Spiderman were looking over at me with approval. “Good save, kid,” Spiderman said in my mind, folding his arms across his muscular chest and looking down at us.
I was a hero. At age eleven I had really, truly saved a life. Man!
Swelling with pride, I waited in the water with my mother as she coughed out all of the water in her lungs. Then, finally, I could tell she was about to say something. I couldn’t wait to hear it.
Slowly she turned to me and uttered, between coughs, those seven words that I will never, ever forget:
“What took you so GOD – DAMNED LONG !?!”