Letting Bad Things Happen

>> Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Some things completely flabbergast me, and this is one of them. Six teens drowned in a river while their friends and families were picnicking close at hand.

Look, I recognize that people do things that are, in hindsight, not too bright. Like sending your kids into a river you think you know well when neither you nor they know how to swim or, apparently, have any effective flotation devices. Not to say that such doesn't sound like a really bad, if not abysmally stupid, idea, but I know there are many things people do that strike me the same way, like shooting guns in the air on New Years or handing one's ten year old an automatic weapon. Like sending your grade school kids off to the unlife-guarded apartment pool alone or letting them wade, waist-deep, in flood waters while lightning strikes in the distance. But those have all happened, too.

Sometimes, people have a poor understanding basic dangers (just as some people inflate those dangers to a degree that similarly defies logic, but that's a different blog post). Hindsight can be painfully humiliating as well as tragic.

But there is one aspect I completely don't understand.

There was a large group of adults handy, apparently, "family and friends". A family friend that was there said, "None of us could swim. They were yelling, 'Help me, help me. Somebody please help me." It was nothing I could do but watch them drown one by one." That's what I just don't understand.

What I don't understand, just can't understand, is how adults of nearly any flavor could knowingly stand on the shore while children drowned, called out for help, called out to be saved. Understanding, of course, that the adults also didn't know how to swim, I still don't get it.

Can't make a line holding hands? Can't tread water? Didn't have anything that could be used as a flotation or reach or grabbable device? A fishing pole? A towel? Something?

How do you live the rest of your life with that? A few years back, I was at a talk by a fireman on safety day who explained, if you're outside a burning house and your kid is inside, you need to stay where you are and not go after them. I understood why he said it, understood his reasoning, understood that I was desperately unqualified to run into a building and save a trapped child, but I told him honestly that, if I was outside a burning building and my child - or any child - was inside, the only way people could keep me out would be with a dog pile. I'd rather be dead than wonder the rest of my life if I could have done something.

Apparently, one person (described as a bystander) jumped in and managed to rescue one teenager so six died instead of seven (and others might have tried), but I'm at a loss to understand how six children (teenagers) could have died that way with no more involvement from the adults there than described. I'm confused and heartbroken and astounded because I know that could never happen around most of the people I know, that they, like me, would rather end up in the bottom of the river themselves than not dive in after them, swimming talent or not.

It's a tragedy and I don't want to dump any more grief on anyone. I feel actually for them, for the people who felt helpless on the side of the river. I feel sorrier for them than I do for the children whose lives were cut short. After all, for the children, their suffering is over.


  • Jeff King

    Wow...I agree with you.

    Nothing would stop me from jumping in -NOTHING-, not even if there were alligators, sharks or whatever else I can think of.

    How could anyone live with themselves?

  • The Mother

    Not teaching your children to swim is almost child abuse. Letting them wade in a river when they can't swim, probably is.

    I have empathy for this family. But I don't understand, either.

  • Roy

    Nope, doesn't make sense here, either.

  • cornerstone university lansing

    This really sounds very stupid. Even though the children could not swim, their family was close at hand and they should be able to rescue more than one as soon as one of the children scream for help.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I'm not comfortable judging people based on a brief media report, but I can't imagine standing by as my children drowned as is described.

    It is beyond my understanding.

  • Shakespeare

    I couldn't either. I understand the stupid decisions--letting kids go out and wade in water when they cannot swim--but there is no way I couldn't go out and try to get them.

    I remember Maryland (where I was in 4th grade) had laws making swimming lessons mandatory for all kids. We bused to a local pool for 2 weeks and took lessons. Even some cursory lessons teaching kids to float, dog paddle, bob, hold breath, SOMETHING, are needed here.

    If I lose a child some day--whether it's my fault or not--it will haunt me for the rest of my life. That's why my daughter can swim, and why I continue to work with my son. I'd rather die than outlive either of them.

  • flit

    how horrible. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't at least tried.

    But of course, if they couldn't swim, none of them should have been there in the first place, either.

    So sad!

  • soubriquet

    At the age of about seven, my school class went to "The Big School", on a wednesday morning, And to the swimming pool. It was rather old and decrepit, chlorine and cracked tiles.
    Miss Verity told us all to walk down the steps into the water, and stand in the shallow end, facing a partner. We had to hold our noses, shut our eyes, and dip our faces in the water. Then, when all had got over any fear of doing that, we had to try touch our toes. The children designated "One" tried first, whilst their partner, designated "Two", stood by, and hey presto! magic!, my feet rose off the floor of the pool, and I floated. No matter how much I tried, I could not sink underwater to touch my toes.
    First important lesson learned. With that came confidence.
    I've been afloat in crazy places since, far out of sight of land, and I still hear Miss Verity's voice.

    She's saved my life several times.
    When I was a bit older, and at another school, we learned "drownproofing", a series of exercises to maximise survival chances in open water. How to float, conserve energy, and, most important, to reduce heat-loss. That came in rather handy in the middle of the Baltic sea.
    Why do we not see staying alive as a core subject in our schools?

  • soubriquet

    A few weeks ago, at a popular beauty spot near here, an eight year old boy died, he'd been scrambling around on a steep bank above a bend in the river. It was his birthday, his extended family were all present, yet nobody, it seems, thought that letting an eight year old clamber around above the outer edge of a river bend, above fast-flowing cold water might be unwise.
    The water is twenty five feet deep there. Police divers recovered his body three hours later.

  • Stephanie Barr

    That is a perfectly valid question. My youngest children, 2 and 6, both understand rudimentary water safety and my six year old is on a fair way to swimming.

    My eldest spent the summer working as a lifeguard.

    As for the 8yo boy, how tragic! We keep careful watch over our son since, understanding water safety or no, he'll make a beeline for any nearby water body.

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