Monday, July 21, 2008

All We Hold On To

“Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be all right.”

Those are the words going through my head, and the ones I wanted to say to all of the Portuguese families watching my friend and I fly by on the back of the lifeguard’s 4-wheeler, gasping and pointing at the blood on our bodies.
Have you ever had the feeling that can only be explained saying, “God is on my side…?” Yesterday I was filled with this and it was so much more than what words can describe. Let me tell you the story

Some students and I have been studying for 8 weeks in Spain and a weekend trip to Costa Nova Beach in Aveiro, Portugal seemed like a great way to escape and relax our minds and bodies before final exams and a long flight back to the states at the end of this week. We arrived Saturday, had a great day on the beach and a wonderful dinner typical of Portuguese cuisine that night.
We got to the beach early Sunday morning and were all excited to see the 8 foot waves crashing against the shore. The volume was intense as the first set of waves was crashing right on the shore and behind them another set was breaking about 30 yards out. We walked down the beach a bit and found the perfect spot to relax. There weren’t a lot of people around and a stretch of rocks extended out about 40 yards into the ocean like a dam that could never be finished.
After resting on the beach for a bit, I walked out on this stretch of rocks to feel the ocean’s power and just take it all in. I had the silent company of a couple of old fishermen; their weathered faces and tired skin spoke of a fearless capability to balance themselves on this jagged death trap and simply do their job of catching fish. I sat about 20 feet from the end of the stretch porque the powerful waves smashed into the rocks and sent up a huge eruption of water and any closer and I would have been soaked. One of my favorite things in the world is to find unique places just to sit and hang out. This was definitely one of my favorite places.
When I got back to mis amigos little campground Katharine was coming up from the water and told me how much fun it was out there. After a few minutes and a bottle of water we took off for the water with high excitement. I think I made some kind of comment to a friend like, “if we don’t make it back it’s been fun” or something ridiculous like that.
We got to the cold water and because the waves were breaking so close to shore we had to swim out about 30 yards to keep from being picked up and thrown into the shore. I wish I could explain the ferocity of this water…I think it almost matches our stupidity of deciding to take it on.
The waves were fun in the deeper water and we swam around trying to body surf and such. After about 10 minutes I said, “Katharine we need to try and swim back this way a bit because were starting to drift towards the rocks.” So we did. And 5 minutes of hard swimming later we were closer to the rocks than before. This is when I knew we were in serious trouble. The current was so strong that there was nothing we could do to escape its pull.
As we’ve discussed this for probably a couple of hours, my friends who were on the shore watching said that at this point there was a huge crowd on the beach waiting to see what happened.
My instinct told me that the last thing I should do was swim towards the rocks but I decided to because I was already completely exhausted from trying to fight the force and I knew if I didn’t make an effort to time all of this that I was inevitably going to get picked up and thrown into the jagged edges.
People asked me if I was scared out there and the truth is I wasn’t. There wasn’t any room or time to be scared I knew in my heart that in the next minute or so I was going to be alive or dead.
In what seemed like about one minute I started thinking about every thing I knew about the ocean and I tried to time the sets and count the waves. With strength I don’t know how I had I started swimming to the end of the long stretch of rocks. I floated over a huge wave, perfect timing because it broke right as it passed me and slammed the closest rock. As the undertow began to pull back I swam as hard as I could and made it to the first rock, I grabbed it with my arms and legs right as the next wave smashed into me and pinned me to the rock for what seemed like forever. As soon as it passed I knew I only had another second or two before the next wave, and I was able to climb around that first rock and get behind it; bracing myself between it and another with my arms and legs. I put my head down as the next wave smashed into me and the first rock, most of its strength being absorbed by the shield that could have killed me a second ago. I was fortunate to have walked around up there before because I was able to see the layout of the stones and knew there was a possibility for shelter.
After the second wave I yelled for Katharine and saw her for just a moment about 10 feet away from the end of the rock wall. I won’t say I prayed because I didn’t. It was more like a thought that contained no words but the emotion said, “God, I can’t help her. Do something.”
Thankful to be alive I couldn’t think about anything except for how desolate I felt. The next moment I thought I was watching my friend die. I didn’t even think to take cover as I watched a wave pick Katharine up and smash her body into the first rock. I didn’t see her for a while after that and that same wave knocked me off my balance and back into the rocks. From there I pulled myself up again and took cover to catch my breath. I was still getting rocked by waves but I had a good grip and enough shelter to catch my breath and regain enough strength to climb out.

As I started to climb out I saw Katharine being walked up the beach. I can’t tell you the relief I felt and as I made it to the top of the rocks there was a lifeguard with his hand stretched out to help me up and walk me down to the beach.
Katharine told us later that a man had swam out to her and ultimately saved her life. She said he got to her and put his body between her and the rock when the waves came, she smashed into him and he was pinned against the stone. She held onto him and he was able to swim her to shore. I was watching for her the entire time and I never saw him. And after regaining strength, Katharine tried to find him to say thank you but she never saw him again either.
Some of our friends were crying and we both acquired some bad cuts but we made it out alive. It’s crazy to think about, death and all that, but there’s really no reason we survived the ordeal except that God wanted it that way.

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