It was 1995 and my family had just moved from the Midwest to Connecticut. The kids had never seen the ocean and we were eager to find a beach to enjoy, so we crossed over to Long Island and set out along the southwestern shore facing the wide open Atlantic ocean. It was a spectacular weekend day and unfortunately every beach was completely filled with no parking and no entry so we just kept on going. Long island is a very long island and every beach was full up all the way until we reached the very tip of the island, Montauk Point, with ocean all around us on all three sides. For some reason, the beautiful beach here was almost completely empty, but the day was almost over so we hurried out of the car and into the water before the last minutes of sunlight were gone. We felt very lucky to have found this beach just in time.
We didn’t get very far out from shore before we were caught up in a surprising riptide. It was so powerful that we were washed a bit further out before we knew what had hit us. As each tremendous wave came in we were all swept off our feet, and as each wave receded we could again touch the bottom with our feet but we were pulled back and knocked down again. I didn’t know anything about how to deal with riptides. I now know that the best thing to do is to first try to move perpendicular to the tide (parallel to the shore) in order to get out of the most vicious part of the current, and only then work towards the shore. But at the time, my only strategy was to try to head straight for shore as quickly as possible. This however pitted us against the most powerful strength of the riptide.
My three daughters and my wife were completely unable to remain standing or make any progress at all against the tide. I tried to help them one at a time, as quicky as I could, because I couldn’t possibly help them all at the same time. I would throw each of my daughters forward, then go on to the next, and finally frantically push or pull my wife forward. But this meant that each of them were knocked down and under water as soon as I was helping the others. Each of them frantically screamed at me to not abandon them, but I had to divide my efforts amongst all four. It appeared that we would die. I prayed fervently and constantly, for there are no atheists in foxholes. It was unbelievable that such a simple mistake and situation could cost us our lives, but the reality of the situation was what it was. I also frantically reviewed in my mind the possibility that some of the family might make it, but not all. I doubted if I could help save all four, but how could I live with myself if some survived but not all made it out alive? It would be as if I had decided which ones would live. It was the most terrifying thing I could ever imagine, but all I could do was to expend maximum effort to try to move each of them forward to the shore, even as I heard the horrified cries each time I moved on to the next one for help. Meanwhile I also was being knocked down with each wave cycle.
Finally, miraculously, somehow, we reached the shore. It had been almost beyond my hopes and expectations that we would be able to do so, but we did. However, the “shore” that we reached was a big unclimbable cliff, quite a bit higher than my head or my reach, even when I managed to stand up against the surging surf. We had been washed down shore and in that direction the beach gradually turned into a cliff. There was no way we could move along the shore, (believe me I tried) back in the direction in which the cliff got smaller, because the over-powering tide was washing us in the other direction, in which the cliff got even higher. The bitter irony was, we were going to die, even after having fought back to the shore against all odds.
But then, a strong right arm reached down from atop the cliff to help us, and grabbed the hand of each family member, one at a time, and lifted them to safety. I could not see the person, just the strong arm reaching down to save us. No words were spoken. Lastly, he pulled me to safety atop the cliff. As soon as I saw my family safe I turned around to profusely thank him, the man who saved us, but he was nowhere to be found. There was no sign that he had ever been there and I couldn’t believe or understand what had happened. I was dumbfounded, speechless, and I didn’t know what to make of it at all. But mostly I was just too grateful and happy to be safe and sound with my family, without any energy left to think about how it had all transpired.
After all, I was not a prophet or a scholar, nor the son of a prophet or a scholar, just a very simple man who was in completely over his head, so at the time I just went on with my life. But as I write this dedication in the year of our Lord 2022, I look back and I take it to mean that God is alive and takes a strong hand in the affairs of human beings.
Thank God and thank the angel who saved us on that fateful day in 1995.