It’s pretty natural as the calendar page starts its triple Salchow flip towards 2013 to go into reflective mode, processing the year that was and celebrating the highs, lamenting the lows, and resolving, of course, to be trimmer, healthier, wealthier, wiser and more sufficiently coiffed in the year ahead. (Maybe it’s just me who’s resolving to somehow shift the follicles, plentiful everywhere except on the top of my head, where the hair’s growing thinner than a marathon runner on a fast.)
When I gaze into the rear-view mirror, one episode stands out as the most intense, most terrifying moment of 2012: the moment the wind decided to make off with my son.
In the midst of a three-week family camping trip that saw us traveling from Central California all the way up to Seattle pulling our phone booth on wheels (our tent trailer that has the roominess of a Cadillac’s trunk), we landed in Ashland, Oregon, at a place called Emigrant Lake. Armed with an impressive supply of inflatable devices, we decided to counteract the heat by bobbing up and down on the lake. Day 1 found us paddling out a ways on our own rafts and the wind pushing us back to shore. On Day 2, the winds of fate shifted, so to speak.
As Carla and I proceeded to make our heads light by parting with valuable lung matter in blowing up the rafts, Carter, arm floaties on his biceps, proceeded to climb aboard the floatable chair which looked more like a throne and bounce on the water. Shortly thereafter, the wind picked up and started him skimming across the water away from the friendly confines of our family. As he started moving, Carla and I started to panic. I grabbed a half-inflated pink raft, laid down and started paddling with all my might . . .
Let me pause right here to give an appreciative nod to the Ryan Lochtes of the world who make swimming 400 meters look so effortless. To the drowning whales in the world like myself, a spot on the Olympic podium exists only in the dreamworld. On the aquatic spectrum, I’m much closer to the Michael Jackson side of the continuum rather than the Michael Phelps end.
Thus, I paddled and flailed and kicked, inching slightly closer to Carter, but all the while threatening to have my lungs spontaneously combust and my arms fall off. I kept shouting to the smiling C-Dawg, who apparently felt decidedly more exhilaration than myself. “I’ve got you, Carter. Daddy’s coming.” I willed myself to keep going, though fatigue ravaged my body, begging me to stop using what little muscles my meager frame possessed. As I came within about 20 yards of Carter and started to think about how we might ever make it back across the lake against the wind, a bit of despair set in. “I’m coming, buddy. I’ll get you,” I shouted, perhaps trying more to convince myself rather than allay his non-existent fears. Just as I tried to summon a final ounce of strength, a savior came skimming past me.
Buzzing right by me on a gigantic white paddle board stroked the reincarnation of Jack Lalanne. Clad in a pair of shorty trunks with about six inches of missing fabric length, a 70-year-old gentleman paddled right by me and caught up to Carter. He zoomed fast enough that I’m pretty sure I could have skied behind him, had he had a rope tied to the end of the board. He scooped up Carter and placed him on the board, and then he hoisted me on top of Carter, all without really breathing hard. With one hand he paddled, with the other he grabbed both rafts, and we headed back to shore. Even David Hasselhoff could learn a thing or two from this rescuer.
With a flip of his white hair he must have signaled a boat because within seconds one pulled up next to us to transport us the rest of the way to shore, where my lovely wife stood on vigil, likely conflicted about who to comfort first, the one shaking, crying and blubbering . . . or her son, who’d just experienced a ride more thrilling than anything Walt Disney could dream up.
Eventually the shaking stopped, the nerves calmed and we enjoyed our day on the lake, but not before I learned a valuable lesson about life. When panic strikes, I tend to flail and splash myself to exhaustion, trying to do it all on my own, without realizing that lurking behind in the water is always a great big lifeguard on a paddle board, ready to pluck me from disaster.
Oh, and that swimming in Rio, 2016, is one Olympic fantasy that will happen only in dreamland.
When you reflect on 2012, what sticks in your head as being a moment that defined you this year? Share your story by leaving a comment below.