Some believe there is no such thing as a random event, that all things happen for a reason. Others believe we’re just down here lumbering along with no more control over what happens to us than we have control over the wind. What do I believe?
Sometimes things happen in this life that make you shake your head and say, “Wow, I never saw that coming.” Such a unique occurrence happened last week while yours truly and The Wife were on what was supposed to be a non-stressful vacation — a vacation we had not planned, had no time off from work time to take, and no money to pay for. Yet we went anyway.
Confused? Keep reading; there’re lots of dots to connect in this one, but by the end, they will make a straight line.
The first dot: In January, The Wife and I decided not to go anywhere for our 12th wedding anniversary coming up in July. No money and no time off from work were just two of the reasons.
The second dot: A new job opportunity for The Wife came up in April, and she applied. In June, she announced she was changing jobs. The change meant she would have July 1st through 10th off. The 10th is our anniversary. She asked if we had the money to go now that she had the time. Unfortunately, we determined that we didn’t and chose to just stay home.
The third dot: Dad heard about our decision and, as his present to us, decided to pay for our room. We booked a room at the Biltmore Inn in Asheville for our surprise trip. I got time off work, and we left on the fourth of July. During the trip up, I casually mentioned that I would like to go kayaking down the river.
The fourth dot: After enjoying fireworks that night, we rode our bikes the next morning, then had lunch. We decided at the last moment that this would be the day to go down the river. With only 10 minutes before the trip was due to start, I walked up to the outdoor center. An elderly couple stood outside, and as I passed, I asked if they were also going down the river. They said yes.
The fifth dot: The river guides in the outdoor center said both trips were full for the day, and I would have to come back in the morning. Dejected, I turned to leave and bumped into the elderly couple from outside. They had had a change of heart and decided not to go. They had a bad feeling that something was going to happen. They offered one of their tickets to me. Happily I paid them, hugged The Wife, and said I would see her in about an hour and a half. She told me to have fun, but be safe.
The sixth dot: At the launching point, the river guide stated we would be on our own. The river was low and slow; besides, if anything happened, we were just to paddle over to the right side bank and flag down a car. That’s when I informed them I was a firefighter and would help if needed.
“Last time I went down a river, a lady broke her leg after being launched out of the raft in front of me.” The fellow kayakers all agreed that on such a calm river nothing like that would happen.
The seventh dot: Unbeknownst to all of us, three hours earlier, way up river, a family of five from Illinois had put in for a day of kayaking on the calm French Broad River.
The eight dot: Thirty minutes into my trip, I decided to start paddling to get some exercise. This, of course, sped up my progress down the river considerably.
The ninth dot: Ten minutes later, the river widened to about 200 feet. Right in the middle was a lone kayaker beached on shallow rocks. As I passed, I noticed that the occupant was lying on his back enjoying the sun and tranquility of the river, or so I thought. Floating another 30 feet, I realized he wasn’t enjoying the sun. He was in trouble and wasn’t moving.
The tenth and final dot: While I was assessing the medical condition of the almost unconscious, beached kayaker, two other kayaks floated by. A nurse was in one, and a slightly younger man in the other, both offered their assistance.
We lashed the beached kayak to ours and managed to finally get it and the occupant to the shore. The nurse climbed up to the road, flagged down a motorist, and called 911. Firefighters and paramedics soon arrived and the occupant of the kayak was transported for a short stay in the local hospital.
The nurse and the younger man that helped me paddle the man to shore were part of the group who put in three hours earlier – and were also the man’s son and daughter.
If any of the dots above had changed even in the slightest, the outcome for the 77-year-old occupant of the kayak would have been gravely different.
A series of random events or were they all meant to happen? What do I believe?
I believe there’s a higher power that guides us in all the decisions we make no matter how small those decisions may seem to be. That there aren’t such things as random events – everything happens for a reason.
It took over six months for all the dots to finally connect so this story could be written. I’ve learned if you change one thing, you change everything.
So this is the question I will leave you with: What one, seemingly random act will you perform today that will affect someone’s life tomorrow, next month or even next year?
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.]