Crisis at Cape Cod

    “Crisis at Cape Cod,” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 66–67

    Crisis at Cape Cod

    It was a sweltering July afternoon on Cape Cod beach at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. On the horizon a couple of thunderheads rumbled, but the rushing of the waves and the music of the children’s voices orchestrated a feeling of peace. I watched my two children, three-year-old Vickie and four-year-old Greg, scampering at the water’s edge. My friend’s son, Ralph, a tall, slim, nine-year-old, was digging for sand crabs.

    “What time is it?” My friend, Mary Allen, asked.

    “It’s 2:30.” I watched as Greg plopped down onto a red plastic raft. My eyes followed his short legs as he paddled in the shallow water.

    I turned to Mary Alien for a second as she began to speak. “I’m going to the house …” I lost the rest of her sentence as a sudden premonition chilled me. Instantly, I was alert. Where was the raft?

    I ran toward Ralph. “Where’s Greg?” I asked.

    “He was just on the raft and floated out—” Ralph squirmed as he floundered for words.

    Greg’s lifejacket lay inert, discarded where I had last seen him playing. Frightened, Vickie started to cry. “Didn’t see him take it off—” she began.

    Then I spotted the raft—fifteen feet offshore, rocking back and forth like an empty cradle. With panic in my voice, I shouted against the wind, “Greg!” Quickly I scanned the beach—no sign of his curly blond hair. Again and again I called out, nearly paralyzed by fear. No reply.

    For the third time in less than two minutes, Ralph and I combed the entire deserted cove. Greg had vanished.

    Sprinting up to me, Ralph said quietly, “Police?”

    “It’s hopeless,” I replied, trying to stay calm. “They’d never make it in time.”

    Vickie screamed, “Greg’s drowning!”

    Shaking, I felt my teeth chatter as my pulse pounded in my ears. I tried to reassure them. “We’ll find him,” I said. Yet as I spoke, my voice sounded hollow. Greg had had a few swimming lessons, but not enough to be proficient.

    Mentally I counted the minutes. It was now 2:35. A friend’s son had drowned recently; I knew the brain could survive only four to six minutes without oxygen. Instinctively, I drew a deep, jagged breath for Greg. I could see mental pictures of him floating lifeless on the water. I couldn’t give up! Yet the more I looked, the more discouraged I felt. How could he disappear in seconds? Already I felt a sense of loss.

    Terror shot through me. If I don’t find Greg immediately, he’ll be gone in thirty seconds, I thought. Despair threw me into a depth lower than I thought possible. But I pushed the negative images away and prayed as I ran: “Heavenly Father, help me find him—please.”

    An eerie tingling surged up my spine as the water was suddenly still. There was silence, and the atmosphere was charged with electricity and white light—it seemed like the aura in a bolt of lightning. For me, the waters stood motionless like smooth, cold glass. I held my breath.

    At that moment, I saw tiny fingertips sticking out of the surface of the water, fifteen feet from shore. Gasping at the icy water, I plunged into the sea with my eyes wide open—afraid I might lose sight of my son’s fingers. Then, without warning, I was slammed back by a wall of frigid water that locked me in its hammering, suffocating grip. Thinking of the horrible death that awaited Greg if I failed, I continued to pray: “Don’t let him die!” I blinked. Greg’s fingers were still there. I swam with long strokes.

    At last I reached him. Although his limp body was turning blue, he was on his toes struggling to get to the crest of the waves, fighting for life while the undercurrent pulled him down. I towed him back to shore. His eyelashes fluttered; he opened his eyes, coughed, and then breathed. “Mamaaa,” he finally cried. His breath came in shudders. I felt the Spirit’s presence as I hugged my son with a sigh of relief.

    More than ten minutes had elapsed between the time I discovered him missing and the moment I had lifted him out of the sea. I was told later that if the water had been above 70° F, he would have suffered brain damage; but because the water had been so cold, he had survived without any injury.

    I know the Lord continues to perform miracles, and, just as He calmed the Sea of Galilee two thousand years ago, He calmed the ocean during my crisis at Cape Cod.

    • Joan LeSueur Woods serves as Relief Society music director in her Mesa, Arizona, ward.