Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher once wrote about hurtling down a two-land road at sixty miles an hour and catching the eye of a driver passing in the opposite direction at the same speed. He was struck by how, at that moment, he had placed his life in the other driver’s good faith and attention not to cross two lines of yellow paint and end his life, and how similarly, though they had never spoken a word to each other, the other driver had done the same. According to Christopher, this mundane yet wondrous moment of trust and interdependence, multiplied a million times over, was how the world works.
When I was eight years old, I went to summer camp. One day, some mix of envy, boredom, and shame led me jump into the deep end of the pool despite not knowing how to swim. I had enough of splashing around with six-year olds in the shallow end while the eight-year old boys were jumping off the diving board. I had had enough of playing with the ‘kiddies’. More accurately, I had had enough of being different and less than the boys my age. And so I walked over the deep end, held my breath, and jumped.
I can still recall how it feels to drown: the choking panic, the terror of swallowing of water while gasping for air. Even today, I see deep water and hear death. But as I sank, a small hand grabbed mine and pulled me up. Heaving on hot cement, retching water and unable to give thanks, I remember looking up and seeing a girl, my age, skinny with brown hair. She looked at me and then, almost embarrassingly, turned and ran away.
I often think of that nameless girl, her identity permanently lost to me. I wonder if she recalls summer camp and grabbing a drowning boy’s hand. Does she remember what she did twenty-four years ago? If so, I doubt she congratulates herself. Yet how many lives did she radically affect? My parents, their child not drowned in a pool a hundred miles away, immediately come to mind. How would their last twenty-four years have been if I had drowned in 1982? What other ripples has her act caused, as I live out my life?
Philosopher Martin Buber believed that God exists solely in the authentic connection between people. “All real living is meeting,” he wrote. A little girl gave me life twenty-four years ago. How could she not be God and her small act not be grace? Multiplied a million times over, people acting in ways both wondrous and mundane, we live in each other’s grace. This is how the world works. This I believe.
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