Good Samaritans

Ah, sabbath rest! Yesterday’s peaceful morning enhanced my enjoyment of wildlife along the river. Until the wildlife got, well, wild.

Breathing the cool morning air, I smiled as the Duck Family paddled by—the ducklings by now as large as their parents. The Quail Family enjoyed a leisurely brunch on my patio. Mom, dad, and a dozen-or-so little ones picked their way through the buffet of seeds that the wind had blown in. Hummingbirds sipped from the trumpet vine along with bees and butterflies. Filled with contentment, I headed inside to dress for church.

Before long I heard voices—human voices—bellowing at full volume. What on earth? I stepped back outside to see a large man in the middle of the river, caught in the current. The Okanogan has been dubbed a not-quite-white-water river. It appears languid, but has a persistent current that every once in a while will catch a swimmer unaware, pulling them under for the full count. This fellow wasn’t really swimming, but appeared to be tall enough to bob his way downstream, bouncing his feet off the bottom to keep his head above water.

People on the river bank were screaming instructions on how to get out of the current, which he seemed intent on ignoring. As he approached my location, I was wondering if I should add my voice. Suddenly there was a loud splash just a few feet from me. A man had dived from the bank, life jacket on his back, and was swimming toward the victim with strokes so powerful Michael Phelps would’ve taken notice. Later I learned he was a volunteer fireman, trained in water rescues. He just happened to be at my neighbor’s house. It took him only seconds to close in on the victim.

What are the odds? What beautiful synchronicity, that someone so capable would be in the right place at the right time! Makes you believe in angels, doesn’t it? Except. The “victim” didn’t want any help.

“F___ OFF!” he yelled at his would-be rescuer.

“HE’S A FIREMAN! LET HIM HELP YOU!” my neighbor called, over and over. The “victim” was having none of it, even threatening to hurt the fireman. The fireman floated alongside him for about a half-mile, perhaps trying to reason with him. Finally, the fireman gave up and swam over to the bank. I watched the bobbing head continue downstream until I couldn’t see him any longer.

The rest of the story, which I learned from unofficial sources, was that the guy had shoplifted at Wal-Mart and tried to elude pursuers by jumping off the high bridge upstream. To paraphrase Butch Cassidy, that jump alone should’ve killed him. Police finally fished him out of the river—alive—about a mile downstream.

I went off to church, where the Gospel reading for the day was the parable of the Good Samaritan. Lots of Good Samaritans in our world, but not everyone wants to be saved.

The bridge: not a good jumping-off place

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