The above quote from psychiatrist Erik Erikson seems obvious. Life doesn’t make any sense—in fact is not even possible—without acknowledging our interdependence. It is too easy to forget this truth, though, and so this week, when I came across a news story that so beautifully exemplified both our need for each other and our innate capacity to work together for the greater good, I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you. Roberta Ursrey, along with her two boys, ages 8 and 11, her mother, and other members of her family were enjoying a nice summer day at the beach in Panama City, Florida earlier this week. The two boys were in the water swimming when suddenly they found themselves swept away from shore by a strong riptide. The boys were suddenly unable to swim back to shore and began yelling for help. Their mother quickly swam out to try to help, but was soon overwhelmed by the current as well, and also found herself unable to get back to shore. Her mother, the boys’ grandmother, followed them into the water in an attempt to reach them, along with other family members, and eventually others who wanted to help. Soon there were nine people unable to get back to shore, all in need of rescuing and in danger of drowning. As each minute passed, the situation became more frightening.
Eventually a police officer arrived and called for a boat rescue, but there was grave concern that the boat would not arrive in time. It was at that moment that Jessica and Derek Simmons, both strong swimmers who had just arrived at the scene, came up with a rescue plan. They knew that even though they were strong swimmers, there was no way they could save nine people by themselves, and so they gathered the crowd on the beach into a rescue team. In a matter of minutes, eighty people worked together to form a human chain, one that reached out through the water far enough to reach the nine people at risk of drowning.
One by one the nine people were carefully passed along the human chain until all of them were brought safely to shore. The chain had been formed just in time. Roberta, the boys’ mother, had just started to black out when she was reached. She later reported that she was sure she was about to die moments before help arrived. Roberta’s sixty-seven year old mother experienced a heart attack as she was being brought to shore, and was rushed to the hospital. She is now recovering well. Surely without the quick thinking and cooperative efforts of the people on shore, lives would have been lost.
Metaphorically speaking, riptides and strong currents come in many forms, and at any moment, any of us can find ourselves in need of a human chain of support, or can find ourselves with the opportunity to be a part of such a chain. At such times. may we be inspired by what happened in Panama City this week, remembering our interdependence and true need for each other. Because, as Erik Erikson said, “the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”
You can find many reports of this rescue story on line, along with captivating photos. I can’t share the photos in this column because they are copyrighted, but I encourage you to view them to get the full impact of this inspiring story. Here is a link to one of the stories.