Jean had gone to a spa in the Ozarks with her sister Pat and two girlfriends, young adults enjoying a weekend of sunning and fun. Because Jean was the only one who knew how to swim, she decided on Saturday morning to venture into the lake. Her companions planned to stay on shore and work on their tans. “There were other people in the area,” Jean remembered, “but no one very close to our spot on the shore. There were no lifeguards patrolling this section of beach. As far as I knew, I was the only swimmer in the lake.” The sun was warm, the water refreshing, and time—and distance—passed more quickly than Jean had anticipated. At a point much farther from shore than she had thought—and where the lake was quite deep—Jean suddenly ran out of breath. Shocked, she realized that she did not have enough energy to get herself back to shore. She called and waved frantically, but she could hardly make out the tiny figures on the sand. And no one was looking her way. As her fear increased, Jean realized that she could drown. “God, help me! Help me!” she prayed aloud. Suddenly she saw something bobbing in the water to her left. A boat! It looked like an old abandoned canoe. If she could get to it, perhaps she could row it back. With the last of her energy, Jean paddled over to the boat, but her heart sank when she saw it. It was old, all right, without oars, and apparently chained or anchored in some way to something at the bottom of the lake. She could hold on for a moment, steady herself and catch her breath, and that was surely a blessing. But the respite was at best temporary. How long could she hang on before Pat and the others noticed her absence? Or would they simply assume she had come ashore on another stretch of beach, and not put out any alarm for her? What would happen when the sun’s rays began to burn her, or she became thirsty, or her arms, clutching the slippery sides, became tired? What if the old boat splintered under her weight? Jean started to cry. “Help!” she called again. “Somebody, help!”
To her right, Jean suddenly heard splashing. She turned to see a man a few years older than she gliding easily through the waves, then treading water in front of her. “Hi,” he greeted her calmly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be passing by. “Having trouble?” “I—I’m out of breath and can’t get back,” she answered, relief flooding her. “Where did you come from? I didn’t see anyone swimming—and I was certainly looking for help!” The young man shrugged casually. “Oh, I’m a safety inspector, and one of my jobs is saving lives in water, if I have to. Do you think you can swim back?” “Oh, no.” Jean shook her head. “I’m exhausted.” “Come on, you can do it!” The young inspector inspector smiled confidently. “I’ll swim beside you the whole way, until you reach shore. If you get in any trouble, I’ll hold you up.” “Well . . .” He seemed so confident. Maybe she could do it, especially if he was there to catch her if she faltered. Jean somehow summoned the energy to swim the entire distance. The safety inspector didn’t say much, but true to his word, he matched his strokes to hers and watched her carefully.
In a final burst of power, Jean stumbled triumphantly onto the beach’s sandy shore. Pat and the others, still lounging on their blankets, looked at her as she splashed through the shallows. “What happened to you?” Pat called. “You’ve been gone such a long time.” “I almost drowned,” Jean panted, dragging herself toward them. “If it wasn’t for the lifeguard . . .” “What lifeguard?” Pat was looking past Jean. “The guard, the safety inspector who swam back with me.” Jean turned around to point to him. But there was no young man on the shore, no one swimming away in the lake, no one walking on the shoreline in either direction.Nor had Jean’s friends seen anyone accompanying her. Jean never saw her rescuer again, but she did discover that the resort didn’t have any lifeguards or “safety inspectors” on the payroll. Perhaps he was a guard of a different kind.
~Excerpt from “Where Angels Walk”~