From my senior year in high school until I graduated college, I trained to be a lifeguard. It wasn’t the water. It wasn’t the beach. It wasn’t the girls. Okay, it was a little bit about the girls. But most of all, it was about being responsible.
I always loved the Lone Ranger and Superman. The thought of being the only hope for someone and coming through was invigorating. It was the ultimate demonstration of responsibility. I was sure I could handle it, given the chance. Yet, I am a far more introverted, rather than an extroverted individual. As a youngster, I admired the Lone Ranger because he always disappeared after he saved the day (Who was that masked man?). I admired Superman because he held himself out to the world in disguise. He could act heroically and feel great inside, but nobody would ever know who he really was as a person. That always intrigued me.
In any event, I sat on a chair as a lifeguard for five uneventful years. In the interim, I took all kinds of courses, and remained ready at all times to leap into action like a superhero. Through all that time, I did little more than blow a whistle, and then only if some kid went out too far.
Being a lifeguard was not overly exciting. It certainly differed from TV portrayals. After the first full year, it was downright boring. When off duty, I had to work in the food concession or clean up the beach, but it gave me a little spending money through my school years.
On my very last day on the summer job, before I headed off to grad school, I was working the hamburger, hotdog, and fries circuit, when I was asked to carry a tray of fast food to a couple sitting by the pool, on the other side of the beach. Wearing my white burger smock, I picked up the tray, crossed the sand, and walked toward the bar at the far end of the pool. With the tray in one hand and the food tab in the other, I proceeded alongside the deep end of the pool when I noticed a little girl of maybe two or three years fall into the water next to the diving board. Her frantic parents had taken their eyes off her for merely a few seconds when she wandered off. They looked for her in the wrong direction. The child fell in right next to the edge of the pool, just about ten feet from where I was walking.
The lifeguard on duty was stationed on the opposite end of the pool, and he was sidetracked while in the process of changing shifts. No one was diving, so nobody was in the deep end of the pool. I dropped the tray and the check, walked over to the edge, reached in, and pulled her out – without as much as wetting my smock.
As the panicked parents and a few patrons ran to the girl, I picked up the mess I had dropped, and returned to the concession stand to replace the lost food. The entire incident went without fanfare, except, of course, for the parents of the child who were most appreciative. I honestly did not think much of it. I slinked away rather quickly, replaced the food, and brought a new tray to the disgruntled couple who had ordered it. What I remember most about the entire incident was the fact that the customers stiffed me on a gratuity because I had delayed their food order.
Nevertheless, I thought about that little girl this morning. I wonder what kind of life she has led. I wonder if she is a good person. I would think she is, because her gift of life had nothing at all to do with silver bullets or colorful capes. It was just dumb luck.
Or was it?
. . .