Often it was the highlight of my day, and my wife led me to believe that it might have been the highlight of our toddler son's day, too. She told me that the little guy heard my car pull into the driveway each night and that was his signal to go running for the door that I always used. As I opened that door, I was often greeted by a cute little guy charging my direction and calling out one word at the top of his lungs, actually one syllable, "DA!" He couldn't manage "Daddy" or "Dada" yet, but I knew he was calling my name.
Some of our most memorable vacation moments as a family have been spent on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina. It hasn't always been beautiful for ships that were navigating those treacherous shoals that are off the shores of the Outer Banks. In fact, it's estimated that over 2,000 ships have gone down there over those centuries. But a lot more lives could have been lost there if it hadn't been for the Cape Hatteras Light, one of the most famous lighthouses in America. Its octagonal tower rises massively above the beach and the sand hills, and it's been the guiding light that kept many ships from going aground. It's stood there for nearly two centuries. Imagine the storms that she's weathered, including more than a hundred hurricanes! Storms that blew away so many other structures, but the lighthouse still stands.
We had spent a couple of days at the home of a friend at the New Jersey Shore, just a block away from the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived at night as this powerful storm started hitting our area. So we went to sleep with the loud lullaby of winds that roared around our room and pounded the rain against the windows like pellets. The next morning, the ocean was something to see. Crashing waves, a heaving tide, this wild and angry look, and all kinds of junk thrown onto the beach by all that turbulence.
Twenty-three seconds. It takes you longer than that to eat a slice of pizza, or at least it should. It takes me about that long just to say three or four sentences. Now, a short TV commercial is longer than that. But every 23 seconds, something absolutely amazing happens inside you. Your blood pumps through your body during that time, delivers oxygen and nutrients to all your cells, and carries away the impurities from your cells and starts back through again in 23 seconds. Mind-blowing! That's what it takes to keep you going. You've got to have that oxygen delivered regularly. You've got to have your cell garbage taken out regularly, and your blood gets it done.
Because of my strong love for Native Americans, I was especially interested in a story author Leonard Sweet told in a book of his. It's about a rite of passage that one tribe had for its boys when they turned 13. On that birthday, a warrior blindfolded the boy and took him several miles from camp. Then the warrior took off the blindfold and left this young teenager in this dark, dense forest. The young man was expected to stay there for the night and fend for himself. When it got dark, it got really dark. The trees were so dense he couldn't see the moon, he couldn't see the stars. Oh, but he could sure hear those eerie sounds of the wind, the howls of the wild animals nearby, and the rustling of the leaves that sounded like an approaching enemy. For most boys, it was a night without sleep. And then the dawn began to break. And then the young man could see the forest as it really was; the flowers were blooming, the majestic trees swaying in the wind, and the wildlife scurrying around for food. And then, the biggest surprise of all. The boy would see an imposing male figure, standing in the woods only a few yards away. He'd be startled at first, until he recognized the man. Unbeknownst to this frightened young warrior, his father had been there the whole time, ready to protect his son against anything that might harm him.
In his classic, "Old Man and the Sea," Ernest Hemingway told about a very weary old fisherman who, like most of his village, had had hard times most of his life. He's barely eking out a living, goes out one day and decides to travel farther than usual to fish. And to his amazement, he hooks the largest fish he's ever seen in his life - so big he can't even bring it into his boat. So he begins to tow his prize fish behind his boat, excited about what this catch could mean and how it might be the beginning of a wonderful turn of his fortunes. It's the dream catch of his life! But as he comes into the harbor and up to the dock, his joy turns back to an even greater despair than ever before. All the while that he's been towing his prize; the other creatures of the sea have been feeding on it. And all that's left of his dream is bones.
He was having a great day on the slopes - a lot of fresh snow - an already deep base. It was just the kind of day an experienced skier would hope for. But then this one skier decided that he wanted more. He skied onto another part of the mountain; a section that was clearly marked with a large skull-and-crossbones sign; a warning about going any further written in bold print: "You may die. You decide." It couldn't be any plainer than that. Sadly, that skier decided to ski where he never should have gone. Yeah, that's when the massive avalanche came that drove him headlong into a tree and buried him in a snowy grave.
The train left Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, at 7:30 in the morning, headed for a popular resort area along the Indian Ocean. The train never made it. It was suddenly hit by this massive wall of water. It was a killer tsunami. It had devastated much of South Asia that day. The force of the waves actually tore the wheels off of some cars and leveled the train in this grove of palm trees. In one of those countless heart-wrenching scenes that come out of scenes like a tsunami, one young man at the train site wept in the arms of his friends as the body of his girlfriend was buried. He spoke out to his sweetheart who had died on that train: "We met in university. Is this the fate we hoped for?" Then, as he began to sob even more, he said, "My darling, you were the only hope for me." Tragic picture!
Our friend commuted in his private plane hundreds of times. He flew from a little airfield near his house to the community where his office was. Well, knowing that he wanted to get home one day before the weather set in, he left his office earlier than usual and he headed for his plane. As he was boarding, he told a friend, "I'm going home!" Those may have been his last words. As he landed a few minutes later, the plane went into a skid and slammed into a tree. He probably died instantly, but he still made it home.
Our friend Jack was heading out on a canoe trip with some friends, totally undaunted by a river that was rising from the heavy rains. No sooner had they pushed off into the water but the stronger-than-expected current dumped their canoe. All their supplies for the weekend, "See you!" - headed downstream. Instinctively, Jack started swimming after the supplies to retrieve them. Well, you know what happened? Yeah, he got caught in the current, and he was caught off guard at how cold that water was. In no time, he was beginning to feel the first indications of hypothermia with no way to get out. At that seemingly hopeless moment, a life jacket floated by. Jack knew this was his chance. He grabbed that life jacket in that one moment of hope. Good news. It saved his life.