Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 7, 2010

Fate and Miracles: Summer day haunts me

By Maggie Marshall
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — Nothing on earth can prepare you for the moment that puts you in the position of God. You determine whether someone lives or dies, whether they can see another sunset, hold their loved ones in their arms again, or open their eyes to see the world one more time.

Although it is difficult for me to remember that day, it is not because time has ebbed away bits and pieces of the memory like a great river ebbs away the land. Rather, I have blocked the memory because I do not want to think about what could have been, what would have been, had we not been at the right place at the right time. Some may call it luck, others fate.

I believe that something else led us to the peaceful cove that was once a place of shelter and solitude for me, but which now brings back a rush of memories that I've tried pushing into the farthest fathoms of my mind.

We were the only ones on the lake that day. The air was warm and threatening clouds filled the skies. Every so often the sky would become dark as the sun disappeared from view behind the ominous grey clouds. We couldn't have imagined that our quiet boat trip would turn into something more. Nothing foretold that an ordinary day on the lake would become a day of simple miracles that culminated in bringing back a man from the dead, to live again.

We hadn't planned to be on that lake, at that time and at that spot. Originally, we had planned to blow up the large tube so that my friend, Megan, and I could soar over the water in the middle of the empty bay while being towed behind our boat. Yet something made us gravitate toward our favorite spot on the lake, a secluded cove where the waters are calm and the silence stretches on for miles. At first, it was quiet and peaceful, but soon gut-wrenching screams shattered the silence. The remainder of our time at the cove was full of sharp yells, barked orders, frantic cries, muffled sobs, but what I remember most is the screaming. I remember looking towards the screams and feeling my stomach drop, my brain turn to ice, and my insides shrivel up at the horrifying sight of a body floating face down in the water.

What happened next is all a blur. I remember my father yelling at Megan and me to hold on as we sped toward the lifeless body. Miraculously, we did not have to pull the anchor. Afraid of drifting too close to shore, we usually anchor the boat, but on that day, for some unfathomable reason, we decided against it. Had we anchored, we may not have made it in time. I can remember feeling every nerve in my body on end and repeating "Oh my God, oh my God," over and over as my eyes filled up with tears and I dug my fingernails into my skin to keep from screaming.

When we got to the lifeless man, my father turned him over and I gasped in horror at the image, which still haunts me today. The man's face was purple and screwed up in an agony. A million questions were running through my mind as my father dragged the lifeless body to shore and started performing CPR. Wasn't death supposed to be peaceful, your face smooth and blank as you slipped away from this world to the next? Could a person really turn such a dark, sickening, unnatural shade of purple? Could a person be brought back to life after looking like that?

As we reached the shore, the man's wife began shrieking at the apparently lifeless body: "Don't die! Don't die! Please don't die!" Remembering I had my cell phone, I frantically dialed 911. It was the first time that summer I had brought my phone on the boat with us; what pushed me to stop halfway to the car to run back into the house to retrieve my phone that day could only be another small miracle. I remember frantically telling the operator the story — a man had been swimming and went face down. The operator asked me if he was breathing; I told her no.

And then I remember running, running through the water past the horrific scene, tripping over rocks and fallen branches, scraping my feet on the jagged bottom, but refusing to stop. I remember the sound of the sirens closing in as I desperately ran toward the road, my breath coming in short spurts and my vision blurring. "Stop," I whispered and then I screamed "Stop, please stop!" as I reached the road and the ambulance drove by at an unwavering pace. "They didn't stop; make them stop, why they didn't stop?" I screamed into the phone, my breath coming in short gasps as I fell to my knees sobbing and pounding my fists on the ground.

After one long silent minute left sobbing on the ground, I could hear the sirens returning. The ambulance had turned around. I sprang to my feet and began waving my arms to guide the ambulance to the water. Emergency workers poured out of the ambulance and loaded the man inside. I got one last fleeting look of him, his eyes were closed, his face was purple and twisted in pain and his was stomach distorted by water, but his chest was rising up and down in short shallow breaths. He was breathing.

After the ambulance left and the man's wife had given each of us a hug and thanked us, she asked us for one more favor — to look for his glasses and hat that had fallen off during the ordeal. She said that he would want them when he got back home. Still shaken we agreed as we climbed back into the water to retrieve the boat that had floated to the opposite shore. I scoured the waters looking for his glasses and to my surprise found them half buried in sand; as though a sign from God saying that he would survive this and would get to wear the glasses once more.

It has been more than a year since the terrible incident that put me, my father and my friend in the position of God. Reflecting back on that warm summer day, I realize how that horrific situation has opened my eyes to so many things. I now know for certain that miracles exist and that they happen every day. There are such things as fate and destiny and that I fulfilled part of mine by saving that man's life. And there is a God, and although I believed in him before that day, I now know that he is always watching and he makes miracles and destiny possible.

Maggie Marshall is a junior at Elk Rapids High School.