Summer jobs are a rite of passage for all teenagers, and my first summer job initially was no exception. Last June I joined the lifeguarding staff at Wild Island Water Park. My motives were tanning, talking, and texting prospective boyfriends. In addition to passing my Advanced Lifesaving course, I received training in pool chemistry, bathroom maintenance, and basic diplomacy with respect to our clientele. Although we performed drills every day for various emergencies, no one–myself included- expected ever to actually handle a life-threatening situation. But the day came when I rescued a one-year-old from certain death. My actions in those moments terrified me, elated me, but left me in some ways with more uncertainty than I had ever had before. I had rescued another human being from drowning, but found myself swimming in inescapable questions regarding human priorities, human values, and my own ability to surprise myself.
At age fifteen, I learned what was probably the most valuable and influential lesson of my life- the value of life itself.
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It was my first day of work as a life guard. There was nothing unusual about the weather conditions, the water was clear, and the waterpark wasn’t particularly crowded. This is why it came as a surprise to me when my eyes scanned over an infant lying face down on the surface of the water. My first reaction was shock- there was a possibly dead child right in front of me. Time seemed to stop, sounds became muffled and I’m sure my motions were uncoordinated as I ran to the middle of the kiddie pool to grab the baby. My mind and my body seemed to separate. I knew this, because I don’t remember thinking much at all, however, my body seemed to run to the pool, grab the baby, bring the baby back to dry land, begin assessing its’ condition, and giving the proper care all on its’ own, all in less than a minute. Between having people crowd around me, and poking and prodding the child, I managed to assess that the child was conscious, but not responsive, as she had choked on large amounts of water. I began to deliver chest and back blows, which effectively cleared the water from her airway, and she began to breathe again.
Without much time to think about what had just happened, I was swept away by my boss and asked what seemed to be a million questions at once. I tried to answer all of them to the best of my abilities. After getting all of the details down, i went to go sit down for a little bit- this was the first time I had a moment to think about what had occurred. Besides still being a little more than shocked, I thought of the image of the baby lying face down in the water, and how if I had waited a second later, it may have been too late and she would have gone unconscious and possibly died. The idea that life was so fragile, that it rests on the pinpoint of a single second slowly filled my head, and has remained there in some way or another ever since.
For the next year, I began to live life- more mentally than physically- from a very different perspective. I never went out without looking at people and wondering if anyone sees life the way I see it through my eyes. The reckless things some people choose to do usually lead me to think not. I do not mean to say that you should not have fun, or take risks, because that’s a little ridiculous, and I would be a hypocrite if I said you should. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest in my opinion, risks taken or not. I simply mean to make the point that at times it is appropriate to consider the value of your own life, and if the decision you are about to make is worth losing your life over. I was positive that I would never forget this experience. But in some ways, I was wrong.
After a year had passed, I realized that this experience didn’t affect me nearly as much as it had before. I thought, how could something as significant as saving another human’s life, just slip away like that? But I realized, that much like other life changing experiences, people eventually heal over time, and put the memories into the back of their heads. It is only human nature. Things go away, people change and forget. Though usually it is for the best, I think people need an experience like this, to show them how precious life is, and how quickly it can be taken from you in order to live it to the fullest.