The Life You Save

The Life You Save*

The beach feels wild this morning.

To my right I see a man undressing, ready for a swim.


He sees me, grins and indicates he’s going in.

A travellers accent.

Cold sky, hard wind, rough breaking surf.

I wouldn’t swim here, now.

He steps onto the wet sand. I hesitantly ask.

– You’re a strong swimmer?
– No. But I won’t go out far.
– Do you know where the rip is?
– No. But I saw surfers going in here yesterday.
– Surfers often enter the rip, to ride it out past the break.
– Oh.

The first wavelet rushes up his legs.

The next, riding the first, gushes past his shorts.

He stumbles. The pull of the water undercuts the sand beneath his feet.

Concerned, I call to him. He turns and I see agreement.

Another broken wave hits from behind.

Firmly gripped hands is my strong sense, though we are well apart.

Retreat up the steep beach.

My shoes are filled with coarse wet sand and jeans are wet to the knees.
Later walking the beach,
I ponder whether I’d wrongly impinged upon his free will.
Or maybe saved a life.

Title adapted from a short story, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor, 1955.

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