"Every drop in the ocean counts." Ono
My mom always said that your first memory helps determine your life path. She told me the first thing that she remembers is spelling the word JOB with blocks. I never met anyone who worked harder in my entire life. A taxi cab dispatcher. Assistant nurse at a nursing home. Twenty five years as an AT&T telephone operator. And always the night shift so she could be at home during the day.
When I was 4, my little sister Ellie and I used to play outside all the time. She was only 2, but being in a family with 6 kids, a father working on his PhD and mom struggling to keep things together, we had a lot of freedom. At times it was almost idyllic- smell of rain on a hot street, splashing out in thunderstorms, summer tag, picking raspberries, climbing trees. We were poor but at the time I never knew it. Things were different back then. My older siblings were usually around, but they weren’t when it happened.
In the backyard, we had a little pond about 3 or 4 feet across with a log perched across the middle. The water was so enticing, and Ellie and I would throw rocks, sail sticks across the rippling surface. Certain small toys fell victim to its depths. Neither of us could swim. My first memory is seeing my sister’s curly little head go under. And not come up. Something made me reach down and grab her by her hair, pull, and drag her to the edge out of the murky water. Coughing, sputtering, covered in slimy mud, she took a breath. I don’t know who was crying harder, Ellie or me.
Once our adventure was discovered, the ensuing uproar imprinted my first memory forever. I don’t know how she did it, but my mom filled in the pond that day with dirt and anything she could find. As a mother now, I can only imagine the panicked gratitude and guilt that engulfed her.
At age 16, I started working as a summer camp counselor and ended up doing that for 10 years. When I was 18, I had the cutest little boy, Tracy, put in my group. He didn’t speak English, but he and his older brother were two of the nicest, most engaging kids I had ever met. We used to go to this huge pool once a week as a group, and taking 70 or so kids at one time was no small feat. But there were lifeguards, and kids were supposed to check in at each 10 minute break with their “leader.” We would all stay at our towels in case the kids needed something.
Upon arriving, I took Tracy, who was only 5 over to the 2 foot section. I wanted to see if he was tall enough to play there. Head tilted back, black spiky hair sticking straight up, smiling, he jumped in and promptly lost his balance. I jumped in with my clothes right as he stood upright and beamed.
Not wanting to tempt fate, I took him to the baby pool and told him by gesturing and talking to STAY THERE. I walked the 20 feet to my towel so I could take off my dripping clothes and share the story with my co-worker Julia. As we laughed over it and I turned to check the baby pool, I saw Tracy wasn’t there, and my heart dropped into my stomach. The pool was almost the size of a football field, but something made me run to the 5 foot section. Right by the edge, there was Tracy on his back under 6 inches of water, lips blue, legs barely moving, less than 3 feet from the lifeguard who didn’t see him. Tracy had seen his older brother and jumped in.
The lifeguard looked sick when he saw me pulling him out, practically under his feet. Whistles resounded across the pool, lifeguards converged on us, and I heard people running, their feet pounding on the cement. Water gushed from his mouth when they pushed on his stomach, and Tracy emitted a small groan. You don’t ever forget an ambulance ride with a half-conscious child, not knowing if they will live or die.
Since then, I’ve pulled two other drowning children out of the water even though I’ve never been a lifeguard. Strays, both animal and human tend to find their way into my home and heart. I’m not sure if it was my first memory that helped determine my life’s journey, or an unconscious, imprinted path created by experience and the example of those around me that rippled out with a single drop. Fate, a higher power, or God, who puts me where He needs me.
Tracy is now a grown man, and an usher at our Church. When I see him, what I do know is that he lives. And I remember.