I don’t think I’d ever witnessed a heroic act in person before. Certainly not one on my behalf. But a few months back my friend Hank showed me that mere mortals sometimes have the determination, loyalty, courage, focus and selflessness possessed by heroes.
This time it wasn’t about saving lives (which he is sometimes called upon to do in the business end of his life as a physician), but preserving my sanity.
We picked up Hank and Ruby at Fort Lauderdale airport about 10:00 on a Thursday night. They were running away from the stresses of work and home to enjoy a long weekend with us in Hollywood Florida. I suggested a great hamburger place right on the intercostal where they could warm their bones and inhale the soft breeze.
After I made sure to grab a table overlooking the water, we plopped down, ordered drinks and all began talking at once. I felt around with my foot for my pocketbook on the floor to get a tissue…and gently kicked it straight into the murky waters below.
It slid into the bay without a sound. And slowly…very slowly… floated away.
I watched every source of my identity disappear into the darkness. My heart started to pound before my mind fully comprehended what happened. My license and credit cards, insurance cards, decades old photos of my kids. A set of theater tickets for an upcoming show. The house keys. A few hundred dollars in cash. My checkbook. My cell phone. How would I get on a plane in three days with no proof I was me? With a list of the complete contents of my wallet and the numbers and contact information under my desk blotter at home, how could I cancel the credit cards and report the rest missing?
For a second we all froze. Then my husband spoke.
“Do you have a hook?” he asked me.
Without a word, Hank kicked off his shoes, pulled his shirt over his head, emptied his back pockets of his wallet and cell phone…and jumped down into the darkness. He swam to my bag, then back, without a splash, and smiled as he lifted it up to one of the diners at an adjoining table.
“Is that your husband?” a woman asked admiringly.
I shook my head. Not a chance.
Then Hank tried to hoist himself up… but the dock was too high.
“Is there a ladder nearby to help my friend get out of the water?” I croaked to a passing waitress.
She shrugged. “Maybe about a quarter mile west of here.”
“Can you help my friend get out of the water?” I pleaded to the bartender.
He looked at Hank, thought he was fooling around, possibly drunk, and offered, “Call the Harbor Patrol.”
I didn’t know how cold the water was. Or how dirty. Or whether the fish now gathering a few feet away from Hank were manatees or sharks or turtles or dolphins or tarpins. Or if they bit strange people bobbing about in their neighborhood.
Then four young guys casually got up from the bar, kneeled down at the edge of the dock and pulled Hank up.
“Get your battery out of your phone,” he ordered.
Really? First words out of his mouth, still taking care of me?
Ruby sat quietly watching this all unfold, probably confident that any guy who went to Russia to shoot black bear could handle a dip in the bay.
“I knew you’d be consumed for our whole visit trying to make this right,” Hank explained. “It was honestly no big deal. The water was warm. I’m a good swimmer. I never felt in danger.”
And to illustrate that no good deed, even one bordering on heroic, goes unpunished, while I sailed through the airport on my flight back, it took Hank, whose license was still in his front pants pocket after being checked by security on his way down…and still in his pocket when he dove after my bag… an extra two hours to get home.
Mark Twain once said “heroes do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with secret shame, that we cannot do.”
Yep, my friend Hank is a hero.