December 15, 2009 at 5:34 am (Uncategorized)

Something else happened on the weekend that I forgot to mention yesterday. Something that made the latest rejection of MS #1 look trivial at best.

We went for a run Saturday morning; Llew hasn’t been pounding the pavement much in recent months thanks to long hours in the office, so it wasn’t long before I’d pulled ahead. As I reached the south end of the beach, I saw a crowd gathered along the promenade outside the Man Town SLSC, gawking at something on the sand. I glanced across and saw what looked like a demonstration. There was a camera and boom, too, a film crew, so I just dismissed it as a training exercise, a simulation for the benefit of the cameras and the endless dirge of reality TV. In among all the lifesavers and life guards gathered in a circle, a pair of legs was visible, sticking out toward the surf just like the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the East after she’s unceremoniously flattened by Dorothy’s house. They were a man’s legs, but slim, tanned, and I assumed they belonged to a lifesaver who’d volunteered to be “revived.” I kept running.

Turning around at Shelley Beach, I was surprised Llew was nowhere in sight. There’s usually no more than a couple of hundred metres between us, but this time he lagged well behind. When we finally crossed paths, he stopped and said, “Did you see that poor guy?”

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t think it was real. There’s a camera there, right in his face.”

“It’s real,” Llew said glumly. “And it doesn’t look good. Poor bastard.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I think they pulled him out of the water.”

“But I saw his legs,” I said, still struggling to compute. “His legs looked young!”

“Well, he’s grey,” Llew said. “Grey hair, balding.”

“How awful! That’s terrible – there’s all these people standing around watching!”

“I know.”

We looked at each other.

“Petty things don’t matter,” I found myself saying.

Llew shook his head.

“I love you,” he  said.

“I love you too.”

And we kissed, just briefly. I reached out to touch him before we went in opposite directions: be safe, my love.

When I came around the bend, I saw things had changed on the beach, and not for the better. An ambulance had arrived, and now the lifesavers were shielding the man not only with their bodies but with what looked like a plaid picnic blanket. The crowd had grown. The snout-like boom was still snuffling into the shot. I slowed down, partly to avoid colliding with any of the onlookers, but partly too because bouncing by while a man was being given mouth-to-mouth just seemed beyond crass. It didn’t seem right to stop, and it didn’t seem right to continue merrily on my way. More curious still, I had a sudden, intense urge to make the sign of the cross. I caught myself, caught the instinct, and started wondering about it as I slowly made my way around the front of the club, past all the people. Instead my hand crept up to cover the round O of my open mouth – an entirely inadequate replacement gesture, almost rehearsed, signifying none of what I wanted to send the universe’s way.

Be well, stranger. Breathe.

That is all I wanted to convey, simply the hope that this man’s life would be spared. But I had no invocation, no mark of respect, no ritual, and no right to pray to a god in whom I do not believe. My arms dangled; I was instantly clumsy and self-conscious. Where the urge had been spontaneous, resisting it caused all manner of creaky posturing. And all this happened in a second, the time it takes a lifeguard to pump a single breath into a still and silent heart.

Further along the beach, out of sight of the rescue effort, children squealed, couples held hands, day-trippers paused to take photos of the waves, while just a little way down the sand a man’s life was ebbing away. The message was part obscenity, part salvation: life goes on. A second ambulance came screaming down the street and people turned, a little dumbfounded, to watch as it passed.

I listened to my breathing. I willed the man to resume his own. I ran on.

By the time Llew passed the scene on his own return lap, it looked like they’d succeeded in finding a pulse. Finding? More like pounding; by this time they must have been performing CPR for at least twenty minutes. Llew said the ambos had the man on a gurney, but he was still unconscious and clearly wasn’t in great shape. Grey hair, and now grey skin too.

I wish – how I wish – I could tell you he lived. But he didn’t.

Alive. I am alive, and being alive makes me feel lucky. Writing makes me feel lucky too. Lucky, and alive.



  1. charlotteotter said,

    You’re so right. We are lucky. I am sorry to hear this sad story, and very creeped out by the omnipresent cameras.

    • doctordi said,

      Charlotte, I was appalled by the cameras. I think this reality TV thing is well out of order – it’s grossly inappropriate to invade a man’s final moments like that.

  2. Pete said,

    Those cameras don’t seem right. And I’m sorry for the guy. Reminds me of watching my friend C revive a guy using 20 mins of CPR while running an ultra-marathon. He’s a doctor so I guess he didn’t have much of a choice but to do that after running 45kms is pretty heroic.

    • doctordi said,

      No, Pete, not right at all. Gosh, that is heroic – and a happier ending than the poor life guards here had on Saturday. But there was better news on the same day: further up north a man was successfully revived by two teenage volunteer surf lifesavers – talk about stepping up!

  3. Grad said,

    What a touching story. I am very sorry – for him, his family, friends – for surely he left behind people who loved him, and they will mourn him. I was just thinking of death this morning as I crossed over the bridge. I had passed the house of a friend of mine, killed in an auto accident a few years ago. I thought, why her and not me? And then I realized, one day it will be me. I try to be ready, and I pray that I will.

    • doctordi said,

      Graddikins, of course there’s no answer to that question of why some and not others at one moment or the next, but you’re right, we all get a turn, so I think we just have to enjoy the ride and not think too much about where and when it’ll end.

  4. Lilian Nattel said,

    I am sorry about him. Things like this wake us up. Even if you don’t believe, the sign of the cross or anything else carried your intention, and I do believe that intention for good and for life and love is important and affects the world.

    • doctordi said,

      I think that’s true too, Lilian. Thanks – you’ve understood just what I meant.

  5. litlove said,

    How sad. I just hope that he died quickly, without suffering. If your time is up, then better that way than long drawn-out pain. But it’s always worthwhile to stop and think about the sweetness of living when you’ve had to witness something so upsetting. Balances it all out.

  6. doctordi said,

    Agreed, LL. A slow dying is a terrible thing to see. But yes, it does give one a bit of a shake. A good hard slap that puts everything back in perspective.

  7. woo said,

    “But I had no invocation, no mark of respect, no ritual, and no right to pray to a god in whom I do not believe.”

    I agree with Lilian, the good intention – wishing that he would live – is the important thing. The signs and rituals have changed through the ages and across cultures, but the intent of the heart of a witness is what remains the same.

    And a big cheer to you and Llew for responding to this situation with love and recognition of what is important.

    • doctordi said,

      I do believe that, Woo, and I like to think that intention among the whole of humanity affects outcomes, but it’s awful when you get that comeuppance, that jolt of its not being enough. It couldn’t and didn’t save him. Sigh.

  8. Charlotte said,

    Very moving bit of writing, miss. Poor man.

  9. doctordi said,

    Poor guy. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him. I keep wondering if he was with family, and where they were when all this was happening, and how agonising that must have been for them either way, either being there or not being there. Too sad. The paper said he was only in his fifties – sobering.

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