Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When One’s Life is a Gift

I only think of Terry McLaughlin every few years. Each time I do, it surprises me that my recollection of him is so infrequent, even careless, because he saved my life.

When I was about seven or eight years old, I went swimming at a friend’s house. I remember his name: Gene Boyce. Terry was an acquaintance of us both, and we were all playing together on that day. Gene’s pool was completely round. It was shallow all around the edges but gradually became deeper as one came toward the center. Not a very smart design.

All unaware, I suddenly found that I had wandered too far from the edge and was in over my head. I couldn’t swim very well and I was drowning. Terry saw that I was in trouble and swam over to me. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled me back into the shallows. If he hadn’t, I probably would have died—one of those statistics you read about in which a child drowns quietly in a pool while people are standing around talking and not noticing. There were adults on chaise lounges on the deck, but they were chatting and had missed everything.

I don’t remember seeing Terry ever again after that day. In fact, it took me a long time even to recall his name when, two or three decades later, I thought about the day I almost drowned.

I strongly suspect that the connections between people go much deeper than we can possibly imagine. What we say or do to someone today can affect them for a lifetime. Today I was reading one of my favorite books in the Bible: Philemon. It’s the shortest of Paul’s epistles, more a personal letter than an official communication with a church. In it he writes to Philemon who had come to Christ through Paul’s teaching. Paul is making an urgent appeal to him and in the course of his plea reminds Philemon of his obligation to him. Paul concludes with the words, “—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self” (Philemon 19). Paul recognizes that there are ties between people that can be not only life-changing, but life-saving. Whenever someone’s life has been saved, then that person will know that every moment thereafter is a precious gift. All life is a gift, of course, but that fact is driven home hard when we have skirted the edge of death and been brought back by someone.

A dozen or so years ago a young woman walked into church during a Mass, carrying a bouquet of roses. She had tears in her eyes, and walked up to me and handed me the flowers. Then she blurted out that I had saved her life by some counsel I had given her fifteen years before. She had been on the point of suicide and came to talk to me before doing the deed. She didn’t tell me that she was suicidal—just that she needed someone to talk to about some heavy stuff. She said that because of what I said she decided not to go through with it. I had no idea of how serious the matter had been until she showed up all those years later. She had moved away, but felt suddenly that she needed to find me and thank me, and made the effort to locate me and undertake the journey.

I wish I knew where Terry McLaughlin is.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the Steve Martin film 'Grand Canyon' - it explores precisely this theme. It's quite good.

Anonymous said...

Hello Father David!

I am glad to see that you have joined the vast community of bloggers :) I myself have been blogging since the summer of 2004, and I like it. It's an easy way to get your thoughts out and have them reach people.

Anyway, I'm just commenting to let you know I'm here reading--and have been enjoying it very much. I've got it bookmarked now, so I will look definitely be checking back on a regular basis!


Bill Baumann, Fr. David's Dad said...

Have read this blog on your being saved from drowning as a young child. Sane thing happened to me as a kid. Got into water too deep, would have drowned, but a man grabbed me by the hair and pulled me to safety.Never kn ew his name nor saw him again. I saved a two yer old child inthe same manner once. his mother with friends were having a picnic beside a lake and were b usy chatting. I saw this yong lad about two years old wander into the lake, got into water two deep, and would have drowned. I ran an grabbed him and pulled him from the water.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who I call my life savor. She saved my life in two separate situations. If it wasn't for her I do not know where I would be today. I am so glad that I am still in contact with her and can tell her how thankful I am for her. I often wonder how many times God has saved our lives. For example, have you ever hit a lot of red lights which ended up preventing you from being involved in a huge accident that took place just before you got there?

Anyway, I am thankful for those who have saved lives. I know it can take a lot of guts to do it sometimes...and I am appreciative of that.