I had known for a long time about the teenage boy who drowned in the Saint John River while attending a retreat at a camp with his church youth group. But it was surreal to listen to a friend who was there give her perspective and details of the story. Imagine being at a somewhat remote campground with a group of teenagers along with some other adults from your church, and you discover that something is wrong. You see panic on a handful of faces, desperately seeking help and direction. Fear takes over, but so does an innate reflex to stay calm and act wisely—for your sake and for the sake of the young campers—and the cocktail is made complete with a shot of adrenaline. You want to believe that there is some explanation and that somehow everything is ok. But a kid has fallen out of his canoe without his life jacket on. He had a seizure. He is missing somewhere under the water.
My friend told me what she, her peers, and the teens did while they waited for emergency assistance to arrive. They got in the water. They wanted to find him. They spread out in the general area of the river where his canoe was. A lot of painful minutes (far too many for comfort) had passed from the moment he fell in to this moment when they decided to try to find him. He could not possibly have survived, but she said everyone there was resolute and determined about getting in that water and retrieving their friend.
I was astounded by this. This was 12-18 year olds. This was a dead body. Wouldn’t they at the very least be squirmish, let alone petrified? And how could they think they would actually be able to revive his body? But my friend recalled that there was a such a strong pull to hold out hope and work together to save him. Not only that, how could they just sit and wait? They felt they just had to do something. Even if the possibility of survival was slimmer than the skin of an onion, that was enough for them to go on.
I am always struck by this kind of gut-level teamwork in the face of catastrophe, which we see played out so vividly in Apollo 13. The lengths we go in the desperate attempts to save one another as humans is astounding and profound.
I wish there was a happy ending for this story like there was for Jim Lovell and his crew. They never did find him. The EMT’s did. He was found in the very spot they were searching, which has led my friend to believe that God was saving the group from the trauma of finding their friend’s lifeless body.
His name was Jeff Choate. He is still remembered fondly as a kind, thoughtful, happy, cool kid. And his memory remains alive on Caton’s Island every time someone gets hungry and heads to the Choate Dining Hall. And for me, he’s not the only one who will be remembered. That group of teens and adults who were willing to do whatever was necessary, no matter how difficult it may be, to save a life will never cease to inspire me and restore my faith in humanity.
Congratulations Apollo 13. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Could we go with anyone other than Meryl Streep? I haven’t seen Bridges of Madison County, but I’m sure she was great in it. Plus, can you imagine Petrina if the chosen best actress was Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas???
Best Actor: As much as I love Braveheart, the last time I watched it I found some of Mel’s acting a little phony, especially when he’s showing that he’s enamoured with Murron at the beginning. I think Tom Hanks is, again, the winner this week.
Best Quote: “Well don’t you worry, honey. If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.” — Jean Speegle Howard (Ron Howard’s mother) as Blanche Lovell (Jim Lovell’s mother) in Apollo 13.
Funny little memory… Just weeks before getting married Joy and I flew to Colorado to interview for a youth pastor position there. We were so shocked that the pastor not only took us to the movies (THE PASTOR!!), but did so on Sunday. And just weeks after our wedding I went to see a movie with one of our teens from the Blacks Harbour Wesleyan youth group to see Batman and Robin in Saint John. When I talked to his mother about it (She thought it was a great idea, of course.) I told her that I’d take him the day after I was officially off the payroll of the church just in case anyone had a problem with it. My how quickly things changed after 1995.