This morning I discovered a new beach online and decided to try it with E, who is turning out to be an excellent partner in beachy crime. I made the required reservations (because COVID) and even rented a tandem kayak for an extremely reasonable fee ($10 including tax for 30 minutes.) We drove out to Professor’s Lake, singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack the entire way.
It was unlike any of the beaches I’ve been to before: we entered through a building that housed bathrooms, a snack bar, and a boat rental desk, and came out to a tiny beach with three lifeguard stands and a roped-off swim area. It’s not a big lake (although probably similar in size to Kelso,) which meant calm, warmer-than-your-average-lake waters. The bottom was sandy all the way out and the water was chest-deep at the far limit of the “shallow end.”
E and I frolicked in the water for a while until it was time for our kayak rental; then I paddled us around the lake, sticking close to shore so I could see the backyards of the houses that back onto it. I had no idea that Brampton had subdivision houses with a lake in their backyards; most of them had some kind of watercraft and some even had small docks at the water’s edge.
(Note to self: I want a lake at the bottom of my backyard.)
On our way back to the boathouse we saw the lifeguards’ pontoon boat speeding towards us.
“I need you guys to go back to the boathouse right away, because it’s going to rain soon and also something else.” The lifeguard shouted to us.
Also something else? I thought as I paddled hard back to shore. This can’t be good.
It wasn’t until we got close to the dock that I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. We were directed to exit to the parking lot, unless we had things on the beach—which we did—in which case we were to pack up and then leave.
You might not know this about me, but I have strong feelings about what people should and shouldn’t be doing when there’s an emergency situation. As we were packing up and leaving I was telling E that when there are first responders coming towards you, you hop aside as quickly as possible because an extra couple of seconds might save a life; that you should follow their instructions first and ask questions much later, if at all; that we’re so lucky to live in a place where we have police and medics and firefighters who come to help as soon as they’re called.
In the parking lot I saw two women walking away from their car.
“Do you know,” I asked, “if they’re letting cars out of the parking lot? Or are we blocked?”
“They have to let us through,” one woman said in an exasperated tone. “They can’t keep us here.”
“Actually,” I whispered to Ellie as we walked away, “I’m pretty sure they can. And I’m certainly not going to interrupt them in the middle of a rescue so I can get out of the parking lot a few minutes sooner. We’ll just take our snacks and sit on that bench.”
Honestly, what are people thinking when they get upset about this kind of thing? They were planning to be at the beach longer anyhow, so they don’t have any other pressing engagements. What could possibly be more important than saving a life?
Which reminded me: I shared this thought with E and taught her the Hebrew term Pikuach Nefesh, which is the Jewish principle that you can (or must) transgress any law in the Torah if it is a matter of saving a life. She repeated the words Pikuach Nefesh a few more times, rolling it around her mouth.
After twenty minutes of sitting on the bench (I couldn’t stand how people were gawking through the fence at the scene unfolding on the beach) we took a walk down the path that circles the lake. E squealed in delight as we found a playground, and she started climbing while I added this park to the Playground Buddy app.
Our car was no longer blocked in when we finally returned to the parking lot; the firetrucks had all left and the ambulances were packing up their stuff and leaving. Only a dozen police cars remained, the officers all gathered in a tight circle on the beach—to debrief, I assumed.
Later I read that a man had drowned in the lake. In the face of that, more mundane issues seem so unimportant, don’t they? And yet life goes on at breakneck speed, I reflected upon seeing that my beach access fee had already been credited back to my VISA card.
On any given day there are tragedies great and small, personal triumphs, births, and mundane everyday transactions, all happening at the exact same time. I’ve tried to wrap my mind around that before; I’m still trying to.
Tonight I’m thinking of the lifeguards who handled today’s emergency with such professionalism, the first responders who were unable to save that life, and the family of the man who drowned.
Folks, please… learn to swim. Teach your children to swim.
And for heaven’s sake, do not complain about minor inconveniences when there’s a life on the line.