To see these two numbers together, brings to mind the saying “Hindsight is 20/20”. To me, this means the understanding of a wish that “had we only known yesterday,” what we experienced and maybe could have been avoided today. I have been viewing old and new documentaries and reading about the tragic sinking of the luxury liner, Titanic. After striking an iceberg at 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, the Titanic sunk a little after 2:00 AM on the 15th with over 1500 souls still aboard. Only 709 people were rescued that night. The anniversary of this fatal collision does not always warrant my attention but for some reason this year I had watched a new documentary on Netflix called “Titanic: The Final Mystery.” On April 15th this year, I awoke from a dream in the early morning (around 1:30 AM) and the image in the dream carried over into consciousness to the degree I had to turn on the bedroom light to ensure there was no pool of water at the foot of my bed. This was just my imagination, right? Over-active mind from all the movies and reading about the accident I suppose. I soon remembered there were several real life experiences I have had in the past with potential life threatening drowning.
The first was as a child of 10 or 11. I had the good fortune of growing up within one block from the west branch of the mighty Susquehanna River. One afternoon on a hot summer day we swam over to “the island” from around 6th Street in Milton. After a few hours of exploration and rock throwing, we swam back to the point on the east bank where we started the day. The only difference, this time it was an against-current swim. My friend had waded out from the island’s northern tip enough that he had no problem making it across the 40 or 50 feet to the shore. I had not started from the same place, but rather more from the side which made the current much stronger. It was not long before I realized that between the cold water, hours of throwing heavy rocks, and the fast current, my usual swimming power immediately ebbed into cramping panic. In an instant I was in danger, and my friend’s hand was only feet away as he stretched from the shoreline to help me. The harder I swam the weaker I got until I had no strength left. Had it not been for some fishermen pushing off from a nearby dock I could possibly have drowned. “Better get over there and pull him out,” I heard the older man say as the boat sped to my rescue. Even when I realized I had only to swim with the current and land safely downriver from where I wanted to go, I had no strength to stay afloat.
The next incident was in 1972. Having spent the entire week preparing the homes of many people along North Front Street, my father had made the choice to disregard the mandatory evacuation orders. The loud speakers bellowed the orders throughout the day. My family and I stole away in the house quietly and kept the lights dim to avoid detection. After all, my father assured us we were in no real danger and if the water came up too high we would just leave. We had placed every appliance and piece of furniture up on saw horses on the first floor. We enjoyed a dinner of hoagies and chips for supper and as early warning precaution, I slept on the bare hardwood floor of the living room that night. Throughout the day we had monitored the river, which was rising at a rate of 1-2 feet per hour. But again, we were the highest home on all of North Front Street sitting directly on the NE corner of 2nd and Front Streets; no one felt any real concern.
Somewhere near dawn I awoke with a cold chill. My sleeping bag was damp; water was bubbling up between the floorboards and flowing steadily into the kitchen from the gap between the bottom of the basement door and floor. In less than two hours with full daylight we were trapped on the stairs and the water was up to the 5th or 6th step. I often wish today we had the technology of cell phones to have recorded the events of the next hour. After the boat had come into our living room through the front door, we had to gather a few belongings and step into the small fishing boat. The outboard motor filled the living room with a pale light smoke and the air stung with the sharp rasp of gasoline, oil and natural gas. Everywhere you looked there were barrels, logs, lawn furniture, toys, and other debris floating by. We then had to go to the home just to the east of us on 2nd Street, to pick up an older lady who had also been lured into the illusion of safety, and stayed at home. The boatmen had to push against the ceiling and door jams to get into and out of the front door in order to retrieve the visibly distressed woman from her inner staircase. The water in her home was now almost 4 feet from the ceiling. We barely got out with everyone needing to duck down as flat as possible in the boat in order to get out the doorway. We rode toward the river and rounded the corner onto North Front Street. As we passed the street sign I could not help but notice that the top of the sign bearing the street names were only a few feet above water. This image will live with me forever. Our route took us all the way down Front Street until we got to Broadway where we turned East toward the safety of the hill just across the railroad tracks. Men were at the intersection of Arch and Broadway to safely direct us between giant banded bundles of lumber. These bundles had floated down from Clinger Lumber around Locust Street and were slamming into the glass fronts of the buildings at the South end of the street. We were safely escorted between bundles and unloaded onto dry ground just past the Newsstand where the elevation started its gentle rise.
Hindsight tells me now that had I known at 10 or 11 years old that the combination of my sore muscles, cold water and faster current would have paralyzed my arms, I would never have crossed the river at that angle. Likewise, had my father known that the water would rise continually all night and into the next several days, he would never have chosen for us and our neighbor to stay in our houses. He didn’t anticipate the risk of fire from gasoline, oil and natural gas leaks nearby, or structural damage from the loosened renegade flood debris.
Caring Choices does not possess a special 20/20 hindsight vision that can warn others of impending tragedy. We can however, refer to the hundreds of experiences in both our private and professional lives where people have again and again called upon this elusive sense. The more prepared we are for inevitable situations and unexpected change, the less time and energy need be directed to things that could have easily been planned for and possibly avoided. This would allow more positive interaction to occur in the moments where the true focus of attention exists.
© 2015 Caring Choices