“Don’t panic,” I tell myself. Surely my mind is playing tricks. But I can feel the water weighing down my cloths and I feel stunned by how cold it is. I shrink from all the other bodies floating next to me and banging into mine. If this is a dream, why are my sensations and thoughts so intense? Even in the midst of a fear that has taken hold of me, I am thrilled by the intensity of my sensations. In fact, if it were not for the panic that besets my mind and a sadness that fills my heart, part of me might choose to stay here.
The ship’s hold keeps filling up with salt water, but a man and his son are helping us escape through a small trapdoor in the deck above.
I notice that the man kneeling on the deck is lowering a looped rope and is trying to get my attention. He is strangely familiar, as is his son, but he is speaking in a language that I cannot understand. His gestures are clear and so I grab hold of the loop and he lifts it, but my arms are too weak and my water-laden body too heavy for me to hold on. He lowers the rope again and is trying to explain something to me, but I still don’t understand. Then I notice that he has played out so much rope that it is floating on the surface of the water beside me. And I finally understand. I put the loop around my torso, lift my arms up through it, and then lower my elbows and trap the loop under my armpits. When he starts to lift it this time, I press my upper arms as hard as I can against my sides. The rope tightens and I can’t breathe, but now I feel myself rising free of the water.
The boy reaches out his hand and I grab hold. Then they both pull me out of the water and I am standing on deck. Except it is no longer the deck of a boat and it is no longer sinking into the sea. I see hills and meadows covered in wild flowers all around me. I see birds gracefully riding on the updrafts that rise up the face of the mountain. The man’s face is so familiar. It feels like I am looking into a mirror but it is not the unsmiling face I have grown used to looking back at me. It is a face I would have loved to have known better in my real life. And even as that phrase comes into my mind, I wonder what I mean when I so casually speak of ‘my real life’. And then, with a pang of sadness, I realize that I will have to return to that life, as much as I would like to make a fresh start in a different place and time than the one that awaits me.
Then I hear another voice and I try to track it, as I know it is my duty to do. In an instant, I am looking into the face of a woman I recognize. She is the woman who often checks me out at my local Smith’s grocery store. And she is looking at me with an inquiring expression as she says, “If that’s all for today, Sir, I can run your credit card through now.”
And before the images of a moment before completely blow away, as I dig out my credit card from my wallet, I try to hold on to one of them: I want to be the man who reaches out a rope to others who are drowning all around him.