My father died when I was 8 months old. I don’t remember a thing about him and it’s better that way. Throughout my life, the most tortured souls I’ve known were the ones who grew up under the care of their parent(s) only to have them ripped away at the peak of their adolescent development. Can you imagine the fear a parent must feel when their life flashes before their eyes? The cumulative regret of all the things they will miss? Graduations, weddings, grandchildren… never to be seen by their eyes. That is the definition of sorrow.
I had a near-death experience in my mid-twenties. While at the Indiana Dunes with some friends, I walked off on my own. Eventually, I came to a lonely part of the dunes away from all the revelers and boats at the more “beachy” part of the dunes. I set down my towel and began swimming towards the horizon.
The funny thing is, I would NEVER have done this in a major ocean. However, I had no problem doing this in Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. Big mistake. The undertow got me.
I struggled. Freshwater filled my mouth. My muscles ached, lungs burned. I felt weak. “This is how it is,” I thought to myself. “I’m going to die just like he did 24 years ago.”
That’s when I dug in. Instead of struggling to swim above water, I dove down and grabbed whatever I could find: sunken tree roots, big rocks, solid dirt. I pulled myself along the lake floor fueled by pure adrenaline. My head only broke the surface to come up for air. Other than that, I pulled and pulled until I felt the Lake let go. Eventually, I freed myself of the rip current and collapsed on the beach scared and exhausted.
It wasn’t until months later when I was watching survival expert Bear Grylls deal with a rip current that I realized how stupid I was. Apparently, all you have to do is swim parallel to the coast until you exit the current and then you swim back to shore. Man, wish I would’ve known that! It probably would have been a less dramatic (and traumatic) day.
Regardless, I learned some important things that day. One, I am scared to die and, two, I have not yet accomplished enough in my life to die peacefully.
I will know when I am ready to go.