I was mentally forming the word "dumb" when the ice let go. The complete sentence I’d been working on was, "You know, this is really…" when, as noted, I broke through.
The complete picture was as follows: As a young man, I was an avid duck hunter. As you probably know, much of duck season takes place in cold weather and, on this one particular winter morning, several friends and I had arrived at a pond that was completely iced over.
We were a little frustrated because - with dawn approaching - we knew that, to set our decoys, we’d have to break some ice. Naturally, none of us had planned for this despite the fact that temperatures had been in the teens for the past two days. Thus we didn’t have the tools needed to accomplish that task.
We tried several things, but they didn’t work. Forgetting a raft of safety tips I’d read, learned, or listened to over the years, I finally eased myself onto the ice, found that I could stand on it, and developed what, at the moment, passed for an idea.
I began stomping on the ice.
To paraphrase comedian Ron White: "You can’t stop stupid."
Anyway, on about my third stomp, my brain began working again and managed to get the beginnings of a warning through in the form of the sentence I’ve already mentioned.
Unfortunately, it was too late. The ice broke and I went into the pond.
Apparently, the Lord keeps a number of us around for comic relief. Given this and several other incidents in my past, I believe I’m a charter member of that group.
Thankfully, the pond was only 5 feet deep. I filled my waders and spent some really uncomfortable moments getting ashore and into dry clothes, but I was lucky and managed to only have what’s now known as a "learning experience."
Others have not fared so well.
Whenever I read about pilots, firefighters, police officers, divers, mountain climbers, racers, or others who tackle dangerous professions or hobbies being injured or worse, I grieve for them and their families. I do that, however, with an understanding that these individuals recognized the risks they faced and had made the decision to proceed.
Moreover, they’d likely prepared. They’d undergone training and had outfitted themselves with the appropriate gear. Over time and with experience, they’d either been in, seen, or heard about tough situations and had mentally rehearsed what they’d do if faced with them. In other words, they were ready to cope with the dangers they knew and had the wherewithal to deal with things they might not have anticipated.
Where all of this is going is to say that a lot of us are truly lucky. We go out into seemingly ordinary situations or do things that seem a bit chancy but promise to be a lot of fun and, sometimes, we find ourselves in trouble. That we walk away from these situations is often a miracle.
We’ve recently had several examples of what happens when we don’t walk away. One involved the death of a very brave and resolute young husband and father. His car got stuck on a snow-covered back road in Oregon. He died trying to get help for himself and his family. Locally, three teenagers decided to walk out onto a frozen lake. The ice let go and one of them drowned.
These days, it’s often hard to recognize when things are starting to go south. We live in a society where hazard isn’t part of our daily thought. We live comfortable lives where danger seldom intrudes and, even when it does, what with everything at our disposal, we can usually get help.
Because of this, there are times when we don’t realize that we’ve become part of a chain of events whose end point is calamity. There are times when we can easily overlook subtle warning signs that we’re proceeding into danger because we’re young and inexperienced. Sometimes, even with experience and training, we can get distracted or confused and, suddenly, we’re fighting for our lives.
When that happens and things work out, we get to go home and tell a good story.
But that isn’t always the case.
And, for that reason, "Be aware" and "Be careful" are two simple phrases that should never be relegated to the forgotten corners of our minds.