I know a sweet family that traveled to Cancun, Mexico: a woman, her husband, and their two-year-old son. A perfect little trip to paradise where they encountered white sand, aqua water, and palapas (thatched umbrellas). Like a Corona commercial.
The family brought sand buckets, shovels, and plastic sharks to spend an afternoon under the palapa. Their son was busily enjoying an ice cream, as it quickly melted down his chin. The woman massaged her feet in the flour-like sand. Talking, smiling, laughing, relaxing. It was the perfect day.
The boy grew sleepy in the warm breeze and the couple made him a bed out of beach towels. Siesta time.
The aqua waters beckoned the woman. She looked at her sleeping toddler and made a bee-line for the waves. No problem, her husband would stay with the child while she played.
Ah. Warm water. She dunked her whole body in and jumped the waves. Like a child. Happy. Carefree.
Body surfing. It was blissful.
When she peeked at her husband and little boy, she realized she was further from the shore then she was comfortable with. So, she started to swim back in. Without warning, the waves increased their volume and force.
The magnet of a rip tide pulled her out.
She could no longer touch the bottom. The reassuring sandy bottom of the ocean floor.
Her head submerged, with the waves three feet over her head. The timing of her breathing was off. She inhaled salt water. Choking. Losing her breath. Sputtering. She wailed her arms frantically.
She was going under. Only 200 meters from the shore, she was drowning.
She could still see the palapa in the distance, but it was shrinking. She could barely make out the outline of her husband. Couldn’t he see her? She tried to signal him, but her head kept going under. He was watching their sleeping child.
Choking on salt water. Helpless. Trying to tread water, but powerless. She tried to yell for help, but her voice was a salt-filled whisper. She tried to swim, but she ran out of energy and the current was holding her back. Her worst fear: she was going to drown and never see her family again.
Then it happened. The parasailing crew spotted her and signaled the lifeguard. At that same moment, her husband looked up and saw her struggling. He sprinted–with sleeping toddler, rubber-like, in his arms–yelling frantically for help.
The lifeguard swam with intensity. The waves were still crashing over the helpless woman. He draped her arms around his shoulders and pulled her in, diagonally, to shore.
Her body was shaking. Her lungs were filled with salt water. She was bawling. But she was, oh, so grateful.
To the lifeguard, she was just another woman. But for the woman, he was an angel, who saved her paradise.
When I reflect on that near-drowning experience in Cancun more than a decade ago, I can still taste the salt water in my throat.
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