For some forty to fifty years, I have believed that I would die in a particular manner. I had a firmly fixed notion that my end would come in this way: that I would, while sailing alone, fall off my boat while the motor was running, and I would die by drowning as the boat sailed off without me.
Several years ago one cool November day, I was sailing alone on Long Island Sound. No other boats were in sight. The wind had been favorable, but began to diminish. So I decided to lower the sails and return to the marina. I started the motor in order to head the bow into what little wind remained so I could easily lower the sails. I sail a cutter, that is, a boat with three sails (all of which, in this case, could usually be dropped from the cockpit). On this day, however, the middle sail became fouled and was unable to be lowered. Since the seas were now calm, I thought there was nothing dangerous about going forward to the bow for the purpose of freeing the tangled sail so it could be lowered.
What I did not notice was an approaching swell caused by the wake of some large ship that had long ago, some miles away, passed down the Sound. As I bent over to free the sail, the swell lifted myself and the bow high in the air and then dropped us both in an instant. And I landed in the water, just close enough to seize the edge of the deck with one hand.
With horror I remembered my fearful script predicting my certain death in this form. At this point, two of the three factors in that ‘dark dream’** were present. Being November, I was dressed for the cool weather, and my long pants, sweater and windbreaker were all soaked, adding considerable weight to my 200 pounds. When I attempted to pull myself up the three feet of freeboard at the bow, I realized the futility of the idea. It was too high.
Then it occurred to me that midship might be easier—there the lift required was a foot less. But no success there either, despite a determined attempt. Then with relief I remembered a triangular extension just a foot above the water at the stern. It secured the backstay of the mast.
So I worked my way aft, holding to the edge of the deck. With a great deal of effort, I managed to get my body across that extension. But two and a half feet remained before I could be in that cockpit. The motor was running and I had fearful visions of the undirected boat hitting a submerged ledge and tossing me off my perch, again into the water. As it was, I was in such a position that I had purchase to raise myself only by the means of one leg.
By this time I was not only cold but tired. I was in my mid-seventies and waterlogged. But my mind was determined to change the ‘fearful script’ I’d written so long ago. So I prayed aloud for strength from that one leg to lift me the last 30 inches. Where that extra strength came from I do not know. I do know it came, and I tumbled into the cockpit, my knee in pain but my heart beating joyfully. I had decided against death and chosen life. For some 18 months a strained and painful knee was a reminder of that moment.
When I described this incident to my son, some twenty-five years younger than I, he marveled at the feat, saying that he didn’t think that he could have had the strength to do the same thing. I’m convinced that the strength was not my own alone. Rather, the strength to choose life over death — to decide against the script I’d written — came from my mind. For I had decided to align my will with the will of God in that crucial moment.
I gave up my will for death and allied myself with the will for Life. The one evidence I have for this is a thought that accompanied my final burst of energy. It was this thought that saved me — “I have more work to do here; I have more gifts to give the needy world. My purpose is not yet fulfilled! Not my will, but Thine be done.”
* “You wrote a fearful script and are afraid accordingly.” ACIM Text Ch 30, VII, 3:8
** “Your dark dreams are but senseless, isolated scripts you write in sleep.” ACIM Text Ch 30, VII, 6:15
Copyright 2007 Frank West