With the last words of “If I die, tell my boyfriend that I love him,” I watched a girl close her eyes, grit her teeth, run as fast as she could and throw herself off of the diving board of my college campus swimming pool.
She hit the water as her two friends cheered.
I took no special interest in the situation, I had just been doing my laps for gym class and had stopped to watch when I heard the two friends teasing the girl for being afraid to jump.
Seconds passed and the girl did not immerge. The precious seconds kept ticking and the surface of the water began to calm.
I looked to her friends as they returned to talking and seemed not to notice their friend was not coming back.
A hint of worry tickled my mind and I swam a bit closer, looking down through the water to see the girl’s body limp on the pool floor.
“Can she swim?” I yelled to her companions.
“No.” One of them answered, looking around the water for her friend, “Why, where is she?”
I didn’t think, I didn’t even consider what I was about to do. Someone was in danger, possibly grave danger, and I needed to help.
I dived into the water and swam down the twelve feet to the immobile girl. Grabbing her by the arm I hoisted her to the surface, all the while thinking only of saving her life.
Her head broke the surface and she got her first full gulp of air in almost a minute, not long in retrospect, but an eternity for a drowning victim. Then something happened I had not expected. The rush of air did not prove to calm her, only to ignite a survival fury I had not anticipated. She turned in my loose grasp, wrapped her arms around my neck and clung to me like a raft all while screaming at the top of her lungs, kicking and flailing. I instantly understood my error.
My mother, a lifeguard for many years, had warned me never to try and save a drowning victim without lifeguard training. She had told me of training they received on how to disable victims who were too panicked to understand that they are attacking the very individual who is trying to save them. She warned me that staying calm was the key, and if it comes down to the saver or the victim, it’s better to fight them off and let them drown than let the water claim two lives.
I reminded myself to stay calm assuming the people around us would help.
We could only have been four feet from the pool’s edge, but it might as well have been miles away. I was treading water, trying to support both her weight and mine, but I was not strong enough to keep us both above water. She was holding me under though I could look up to see a mere inch or two of water between the surface and me.
I didn’t know how long I had been under the water for, but my eyesight began to fade and my lungs quivered with the need to inhale.
When my vision was nothing but a pinpoint in the darkness I came to the conclusion it was her or me but I had waited too long. I desperately needed air and my last coherent thought was, You Idiot! You should have never tried to save her. You didn’t know what you were doing.
The lifeguard, with help from bystanders, did pull us from the water only seconds later, but apparently it took a few more moments to pry the panicked girl’s arms from my neck before I started breathing and woke up. After that we were all being scolded; the friends for encouraging her to jump when she couldn’t swim, her for listening, and me for trying to save her with no training.
I kept thinking of the things I should have done. I should have yelled for the lifeguard, if no lifeguard were present I should have recruited someone to get a pole or something we could have hooked her with. The last resort should have been to go and get her myself, but to warn those around me to assist as soon as possible, at least by pulling us in when we broke surface.
I didn’t possess the necessary tools to intervene in that situation and though a life was saved, had no one been there to help, both of us would have died.
That lesson has stayed with me through the years and taught me the value of ensuring I possess the necessary tools to save a life, including my own. The most valuable tool I have is my mind, seconded only preparation through training and acquainting myself with the physical tools I have around me.
As an armed citizen, I’m back in the pool of my freshman year of college. I’m treading water in a deep and potentially dangerous place and like that day, it’s possible I may see another citizen drowning. In this day I am one step above the average citizen in that I am armed as in that day I was a step above that girl in that I could swim, but that’s not enough.
My next semester of college, I took Lifeguarding classes; I was never again going to be caught unprepared to save a life in the water. Today, I actively seek training and practice in preparing for saving a life in the world.
The instinct to save a life, even a stranger’s life, is a good instinct, but is in need of control. I cannot always rush in to help and save the day. Sometimes, I must pass off that responsibility to those who are better equipped and even if I can help, I need to make sure I use the resources available before I dive in and possibly add another victim to the water of life.