Riptides And Matters Of Life And Death
Editor's Note: First appeared on Sunday, July 18, 2010
Some friends went on a vacation recently and witnessed a child drown to death from getting caught in a riptide in the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida panhandle, a popular vacation spot for many families from East Texas. Their ordeal reminded me of an excerpt from this column two summers back which has useful information you could share with any friends planning a beach vacation. Our family trip was in the summer of 2001.
In the early part of the trip, there were red flags raised by the local authorities indicating dangerous currents. This sort of thing rarely fazed my "damn the torpedoes" approach to vacations, but Elizabeth's radar was really keen - we needed to be cautious. I would say, "Oh, just let (little) Jamie get his feet wet and stop worrying so much," but she would have none of it.
Around the second or third day the red flags were still hoisted and the action really heated up. A sheriff's vehicle came blazing down the beach and a large crowd was gathered about 150 yards down the beach. Someone had been caught in a rip-tide (strong undercurrent) and lost their life. The mood at the beach turned somber and the red flags took on a darkened shade. We packed up the gear and went to the house for a nap and reflected on the morning's events.
That night, we decided to grill on the patio facing the Gulf and have a quiet evening at the house. As we were watching the day fade into dusk, another emergency vehicle came roaring down the beach. From our perch we could see paramedics load a man and as the vehicle raced to the hospital, CPR was being administered to the victim. The man died. He was a well-known reporter for the CNN network.
That week, we were in the middle of a 100-mile stretch of beaches which made national news as six people lost their lives in some of the most deadly riptides in the world. It was an overwhelming canopy to an otherwise joyful and serene vacation. Caution was the order of the day if we even walked in the sand.
We heard a lot of advice on how to deal with the dangerous currents. An Internet search will reveal several websites with advice and tips for surviving riptides. The No. 1 rule is don't panic. Struggling or fighting the riptide is likely to wear the swimmer out and cause fatigue and possibly drowning. Keep a clear head and relax. Try to float or tread water and swim sideways or parallel to the shore. A rip current will not pull you under water; it will only pull you away from the shore. The urge to get to shore rather than getting out of the riptide by following these instructions can be fatal. Don't worry, you can escape the current, but you'll need to keep your wits.
Isn't life the same way? When it brings us riptides or adversity, tragedy or trials, we tend to react in the extreme, even panic. Fact is, life will always be filled with these things. It is how we learn to handle them that will deliver us to safety, however temporary.
Every day our newspaper is filled with obituaries and stories of adversity. Oddly, when these days visit us they always seem to catch us off guard. It has been this way for as long as this earth has been inhabited. People get ill, businesses fail, and times of despair visit with total indifference.
If you find yourself or a friend in life's riptide, use the resources you have to help them relax and endure it until their feet find the bottom and they can walk to the shoreline. It might take a hug, a kind word, a note of encouragement or a plate of cookies. Who knows? It's up to you to figure it out.