On two separate occasions, I’ve taunted the grim reaper. I’ve tiptoed on his front steps, knocked gently on his door, and shook his bony hands. He was surprisingly inviting. Despite being draped in a black, silk robe, he welcomed me with open, though skeletal arms – smiling all the while. Unfortunately for him, I have always been wary of strangers. My stubborn soul protested, and I slipped through his elongated fingers the way water flows through a colander: like trying to catch air with a net.
This, for the most part, is the best way I can describe death. Or more accurately: this is my description of what it feels like to almost die.
There’s a distinctive difference. Death, without a doubt, is scary and even mysterious. But being aware of your impending death is by far the worst experience any living being can persevere through. In particular, the moments preceding your demise are excruciating: your insides begin to well up with a sense of doom. You panic, your heartbeat accelerates, and instinctively, you grasp for anything nearby that is tangible – something secure, stable, sturdy.
That was my reaction, at least.
To add drama to my story, I’ll paint a picture of where I was exactly three years ago: I was floating, life-jacketless, in the middle of a beautiful, blue ocean.
But let me rewind a bit. Shortly before this eventful moment in my life, my sister had booked a three-part excursion – comprised of a short hike, a tour and a snorkeling session – for our trip to the Virgin Islands.
The day of, I woke up feeling “daredevil-ish”: eager to explore my new surroundings and try something new. After getting ready, my sister and I quickly made our way to one of the many beaches on the island, where we eventually met Eric, our adventurous tour guide. He greeted us with a handshake and some tropical fruit (genips) to taste: I immediately liked him.
The tangy, vague sweetness danced on my tongue as we proceeded through the first two parts of the excursion: the hike and tour. Being the accommodating guide he was, Eric made sure to refill our supply of genips every few minutes or so. I must have gone through at least 10 before we finally reached our last destination: The shore.
The next few minutes would unfold in slow motion.
To be fair, Eric did offer me a life jacket. But he also reassured me when I was feeling a bit anxious, “Don’t worry, it’s not that deep.”
How could I not trust him? After all, he offered me genips – an immediate token of friendship! We shared a deep-two hour bond two people can only develop through food.
Regardless, I severely overestimated my own abilities. Call it confidence, ambition, or whatever you’d like – I call it idiocy: I believed I could do something I wasn’t trained to do. Oh, and I should’ve mentioned previously: I’ve never taken a swimming lesson. I still hold on to the sides of the pool and I float in water like an anvil.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever-actually-really-definitively-successfully- participated in what you would call “swimming” (I’m a toe-dipper).
Yet, I exclaimed a self-assured “NO!” at Eric’s offer. No sir, I did not need the lifejacket!
Perhaps it was my confidence that kept me afloat for the first 5-minutes. Although, my body was tense, I manage to successfully (or haphazardly) wade in the warm ocean. My sister, who opted for the lifejacket, bobbed in and out of water next to me, while Eric expertly maneuvered through the waves on my left.
I remember the next few seconds vividly: my sister, while floating, cracked an innocent joke at my expense. I immediately started chuckling, forgetting for a moment that I was in the sea. A huge flow of water rushed into my open-mouthed laugh, and I instantly panicked. After forcing myself to swallow a few salty gulps, I violently thrashed about in the ocean…ironically, like a fish out of water.
Eric, sensing my distress, heroically came to my rescue. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as noble: it was in that moment that I realized something about myself: I’m pretty darn selfish.
With death right on my doorstep, my survival instincts began to kick in (didn’t realize I had any). Desperate for oxygen, I grabbed onto the nearest solid object I could find without thinking.
That object happened to be Eric’s head.
To push myself out of the water, I had to use it as leverage. It was the only way I could break the surface of the ocean in order to breathe in the crisp, dry air my body was hungry for. In fact, I continued to dunk and re-dunk Eric’s head, until my lungs murmured a sigh of satisfaction.
The guilt began to sink in shortly afterwards. Luckily, my gallant tour guide, and now, lifesaver, did not seem mad. Instead, he stepped out of the ocean and returned with a lifejacket, which he preceded to fasten on me. Meanwhile, my sister, who had just witnessed this entire scene unfold, continued to laugh and bobble.
I don’t blame her for doing so. From an outside perspective, the whole event must have been hilarious. In that moment, however, I just wanted to chuck my flip-flop at her.
But this reflection is not my way of venting out my revenge-filled thoughts. It’s not just a written memory or a resurfaced recollection. It’s actually a very public apology to Eric. I will use this opportunity to announce my deep, new-found appreciations: of lifesavers, lifejackets and life, in general.
Oh, and I also vow to take swimming lessons.
Eric, consider this my peace offering: