Diving In: Two Rescues In One Day

About a week ago, Jim and I were walking through Yantai University’s Campus and I asked him what his hope for this park was. He replied, “We don’t know why we do what we do and that’s the point.” He paused then followed that statement with, “When we built the park in Russia, two students fell in love and got married. Maybe that’s why we built the park.”


Recalling this conversation makes me wonder: what magic will happen as a result of our build in Yantai? I view each day as a treasure map, and survey interactions for hints that two students are falling in love, or that someone is having a tangible epiphany. I figure if I tune into the right frequency, there will be an observation or a moment that will elucidate a reason for everything.


But since the real hard building labors have begun, the days have become tense, and long, and arduous. My focus is more often on the task at hand, not the magic moments. I seek less magic moments and overall reasons.


So of course, when I stop seeking them, they happen.


In the afternoon we are scattered about the park, working on various tasks. I am standing near the water helping with some woodwork. Alex sits on the edge of our concrete slab, taking a rare pause from his film and photography.


He turns to me and says,” I think there’s a person out there.” A few other team members overhear him and come to scan the water with us. We focus our eyes on the ocean stretched in front of us. Sure enough we spot a lone swimmer dangerously far from shore. We look to make sure he is alright. Alex pulls turns his camera to the water to zoom in on the individual and exclaims, “That’s a full-on flail. He is screaming for help.”


Our entire team switches into emergency mode. Before we can even call out to Chuck and Kyle to notify them of the emergency, Sam has stripped to his briefs and is heading for the water. He is a trained lifeguard and doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Bean scrambles to grab his phone and call the Chinese authorities. Garrett, Pablo, and Vlad follow Sam’s lead and together they sprint into the water.


We gather at the sea wall and watch as four members of our team swim full speed into choppy waters. The current is strong and the struggling swimmer is hundreds of meters from shore. We watch for what seems like an hour, tensing our shoulders from pulling our hearts into our chests in suspense. We send every ounce of good will into the water to protect our team and to help the man drifting at the whim of the Pacific.


Finally Garrett and Pablo reach the swimmer. Just as they do we see a red and white lifeboat ripping across the white caps. We are confused because the boat reaches the three men and takes an immediate turn, racing deeper into the sea. Then we realize there are two more swimmers so far  out we can’t see them from shore. Once they are in the boat, the boat makes a speedy u-turn and scoops up the remaining three individuals. On shore we sigh a collective breath of relief. Alex takes off running down the beach with his camera to the pier and we wait for full understanding of the rescue.


When Kyle, Vlad, Garrett, Sam, and Pablo return we hear the full story. A man and his two young sons had flipped their Jetski. The current carried away the vehicle and separated the boys from their father. In a desperate effort, the father swam toward shore in hopes that he could flag down help. Luckily, our team was on shore, building our park. Miraculously,Alex spotted this man and heard his cries between saws cutting, machines pouring, and generators pumping. What good fortune that our team was able to jump into action and save the man and his two young sons from what could easily been a fatal situation!


We fall silent for awhile. Everyone acts and reacts in their own way, processing the events that just unfolded until we slowly get back to work.


In the aftermath of the rescue, our morning’s events seem comedic, even though they were also intense. We had to scramble to finish the cement pathways on time. We did the best we could to salvage our park, calling all hands on deck.  


These peaks of energy humble us. Fear and adrenaline reinforce our efforts, and  being faced with a life-and-death situation reminds us that being tired doesn’t matter, being hot doesn’t matter, waking up early doesn’t matter, and eating mediocre Chinese dorm food everyday doesn’t matter.


We are alive and life is short. Even if we don’t know the point of the task at hand, we must be alert to new challenges and choose to dive in, be it into improperly poured cement or the Pacific Ocean to save three lives. Yes, we’ve now had the very moments Jim knew would come without warning when he said, “ We don’t know why we do what we do and that’s the point.”