Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stories that resonate

I could not look away from a story of rescue and loss in yesterday's Boston Globe, "Father drowns in Chatham rescue attempt."

A man drowned trying to save his precious young daughter from a rip current. A 17-year-old off-duty lifeguard, without a rescue tube, saved the girl. Four swimmers were rescued from another rip off Sandy Neck beach.

This very hazard was what motivated me to finally learn to swim well in my late thirties. No father who like this dead father expends his life in rescuing his child could consider that life ill-spent. My own precious young daughter then and now loves the ocean, and I wanted to be useful in the event of danger to her. Now, she's 17 and a strong swimmer, and I cannot imagine her having to make and live with the correct but too godlike choice that Tanya O'Donnell had to make to save the 10-year-old girl and leave the drowning father to his own devices.

My beach necessities happened just down the shore from Sandy Neck in Cape Cod Bay, where late in the season hidden challenges arise that can kill the unwary on a beautiful day. I have been in that buoying salt water literally hundreds of times, where the worst hazard is usually an idiot on a Jet Ski. But I've also started down the beach toward a man in trouble in the water only 100 feet from dry beach, fortunately preempted by a rescuer with the wit and experience to paddle out with a boogie board. I've swum after neighbor boys whose raft came untethered in wind that drove them quartering off shore. I could still tiptoe the sandbar when I reached them, but they were out too far to get themselves back, and they were in a panic getting off the raft into too deep water.

I'm not alone in absorption into this kind of resonant story. People naturally want to hear narratives that they can place themselves into in their imaginations.

The weird thing is that in this age of TV, many of us can no longer distinguish real narrative from fake. In 2000, millions of people thought having a beer with Duhbya would be a barrel of laughs. In 2008, the press is on the look-out for something that humanizes a candidate.

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