Just south of me is the village of Port Stanley, Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Erie. Jackson’s Fish Market is a local landmark, and one of its exterior walls is graced by a large mural – about 20 feet long and 10 feet high. It depicts a rowboat heading out in wild seas to a stricken ship offshore. Here is the inscription:
On October 29, 1902, in a savage Lake Erie gale, the three-masted American schooner Mineral State went aground and started to break up off the high clay bluffs east of the Port Stanley harbour. The gallant Port Stanley lifesaving crew, watched by a large crowd of Port Stanley residents, braved the towering waves and rescued the entire crew of the schooner just as dusk was falling. In recognition of their bravery, the lifesaving crew all received gold medals from US President Theodore Roosevelt.
I studied the painting. The gold of sunset lit up the waves and the sky, as well as the faces of adults and kids who were watching the rescue. The wind blew back their hair. In the rowboat, a helmsman urged on the six rowers, who were cranking on their oars and straining in their faces. On the horizon, the schooner’s masts were tilted at a 45 degree angle.
Oh, the fear that must have coursed through those men! Was this the end? Would their names be added to the list of fatalities? How would their families carry on?
As I sat in my cosy car, I wondered how I’d react in an emergency. I’ve never saved anyone’s life. In the moment, would I have the courage to do that? Or would I fold my tent and slink away, comforting myself with thoughts about the people in this world who needed me to stay alive?
Right now, I yearn for the chance to save someone. And in the next breath, I hope never to face such a crisis, such a call for action.
And when the moment comes …?