We all have PEAK moments in life – hitting that last second jumper, making the big sale, getting engaged/married, landing that first job, quitting your day job to pursue your dream, a first kiss, etc. These high moments in life are, more often than not, moments shared with many people, gossiped amongst friends, and celebrated in a public fashion.
But what I’m curious about is a peak moment of yours that was private and perhaps no one ever knew about. What was that peak moment in your life? That peak moment that no one knows about that you hold dear, that upon your last few breaths of life, you’ll look back with a smile and deep, meaningful satisfaction? I’ll share with you mine…
I saved a guy from drowning to death once. I was in Hawaii body surfing in Makapuu Beach. Makapuu is known as one of the best body surfing locales in the world, with a long, rolling wave that doesn’t break for a great distance. The catch, however, is that one has to swim out quite a ways from shore to ride these waves. On that day, I was right on the edge of “the shark pit” about 150 yards off shore, bobbing up and down in the ocean, waiting to catch a nice roller to glide me back to the beach. There were only 2 or 3 people out that far with me on that sunny, idyllic day. Then, all of a sudden, I heard a faint and stuttered cry for help. It was hard to hear b/c of the roar of the crashing waves and the loud billowing of the Hawaiian winds but I knew I heard something desperate. So I kicked up as hard as I could with my legs to take a quick look around. And there, about 50 feet to my right, was wrists and hands slashing and flailing sea water. There was no head. It was a person in the last, exhausted moments of drowning, ready to go under. His head (more like his nose, lips, and one eyeball) peeked out one last time from the sea surface and I heard him gulp water, trying to eek out a cry for help. And then, nothing…
I looked around only to notice that no one had noticed. The life guards on shore didn’t witness it and nor did the other 2 bodysurfers nearby. This guy was dead or was going to be dead in a matter of seconds. So I swam over as hard as I could to try and find him. Once I got to where I thought was the right area, I dived down. And there I saw it – a man sinking to the ocean floor, hands pointed to the water’s surface, eyes bugged, and the last breaths of air, bubbling from his open mouth. He had the look of hopeless death, his lips locked in a frozen scream. I went back to the surface, gulped down as much air as my lungs could hold, dove down about 25 feet, wrapped my arms around his torso and kicked up as hard as I could to the sky above. Once I hit the surface, I rolled the lump onto his back and atop my chest and screamed for help. Luckily, one of the two bodysurfers nearby heard me. Thank God he had a boogie board. We threw his lifeless body onto the boogie board, strapped his wrist to the leash, and catapulted him back to shore on the wave that followed. Luckily for us, he somehow subconsciously grabbed onto the boogie board and the wave carried him all the way back to the safety of land. I caught the next big wave right behind just to make sure he didn’t tumble off mid way.
When I got to shore, the guy was just laying on the beach, his face and body caked with dry sand. His wife and kids ran up to him in a slight panic and sat him up. I think he threw up some seawater, took a few breaths, and with the help of his wife, got up, and slowly walked back to their beach camp. He didn’t even turn around to say thank you. I wasn’t offended, though, because I think he was still dazed and in-process of returning to the land of the living. But I’m fairly certain that his wife and kids (and the dad) had no idea how truly close he came to death. The whole incident ended with such a strange and unexpected casualness. It was nothing like the movies where the entire beach gathers and the saved delivers a short-of-breath monologue of thanks and reflection of the fragility of life. He just limped away silently to live another day. Hopefully many days.
This was a peak moment for me in a very intense and private way. I haven’t really told too many people about it. But every now and then when I reflect upon the whole thing (which really only lasted a few seconds), the thought puts a big smile on my face and a swell in my heart. I saved a guy’s life and allowed a wife to still have a husband and some kids to still have a father. And I walked away with a bit of karmic pride to carry around with me forever…
If you’re willing, what is a private, peak moment of yours?
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ALFREDO: Wow. After reading Roger’s breath taking story, this is more hill than peak, but here goes anyway: I tutor kids in writing, and, one day, the woman who runs the program handed me Charles’ folder and said, “He’s gone through four coaches in four sessions. Good luck.” What I expected was a surly, disrespectful, disengaged Berkeley High Student. What I got surprised me.
Charles was a light skinned African American kid, handsome, and the assignment was to write an essay about an emotional thread that ran through your life. We chatted for a bit: Charles had aspirations to be a musician or actor, was quite bright, confident, and charismatic. We talked about life and relationships and girls and friendship and it slowly emerged that his “thread” was that it was better to love and lose, than not love at all. I can’t tell you how pumped he was when he started to see this pattern, to be able to articulate it, and to realize something important about himself.
At the end of the session, Charles said to me, “Man, I don’t know what they pay you, but it isn’t enough.” I told him we were all volunteers. “Really?!” he asked, genuinely surprised. “Yup,” I said. He got out of his desk, went to his teacher, and asked that the two of us be paired up for the rest of the semester.
We were, and it was great: I helped him craft his graduation speech, he told me about a trip to New York that made him fall in love with the theater, and, at our last session, I gave him a copy of J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories” and wished him well.
I have no idea what happened with the other four coaches. My best guess is that I didn’t talk down to Charles, took the time to listen to him, and allowed us the space to meander our way, however indirectly, to the heart of what he had to say. In any case, all that cornball stuff you hear about connecting with people and making a difference? I hate to admit it, but it’s absolutely real.
JEROME: This is probably the most private thing I’m willing to share: a little over a year ago, I climbed a rope the length of two stories and climbed back down.
Maybe to some of you this isn’t a big deal, but the truth is for so much of my life I was severely out of shape. I never played sports (still don’t know the rules for most of them) and physical activity wasn’t something I enjoyed.
Sometime after college, I started taking better of myself: working out; eating less; even doing P90X. Eventually, I ended up taking a class at Los Angeles gym and one of the amenities was a rope to their second-story ceiling. I’d seen plenty of rope climbing in movies and TV and it was something I always looked at as something I couldn’t do. Bear in mind, I was a person who even as a kid struggled with making it across the monkey bars.
One day after class, I went for the rope without thinking (and the whole ‘not thinking’ part was a big deal for me too) and though I struggled with the way back, I made it all the way down with nothing but really sore hands. It wasn’t until this ATH that I realized why it was so significant for me: there was a time when I didn’t see myself as this person who could climb a rope – much less one that high – and then there I was, being that person I once thought to be an impossibility.
Life is neat.
ELAINE: Oddly, I can’t think of a private peak moment. But here’s a peak moment or rather, a stroke of beginner’s luck that was public…
While in middle school, my gym teacher – a good-humored Brit, introduced us to rugby. The only rules I remember were – passing backwards (this was the football equivalent to driving on the right side) and the key one was – you can only tackle the person with the ball (which required tremendous restraint for unruly middle schoolers). I was a shy, smaller than average 7th grader with decent hand-eye coordination but by no means an athlete. The school was a preppy private school with as many minorities as you could count on one hand, so I fit into the “quiet, Asian girl” box. I accepted the stereotype as a “lay low” middle school survival strategy.
Once the game started, it was organized chaos with girls and boys and, 7th and 8th graders running around. I hung back, assuming that the game would move towards a small concentration of jocks duking it out with everyone else defaulting into spectators (this was pre-21 Jump Street-The-Movie days when jocks still dominated). Suddenly, amongst the hordes of middle schoolers screaming down the field, I noticed a guy on the opposing team running with the ball in my direction. He was one of the jocks and he had a bit of that douchey, asshole vibe (Kevin Dillon could’ve played him in a movie). Up until this point, I really wasn’t expecting to do much. After all, this was a full contact sport with no padding or helmets. But for some reason, I had the intense urge to take this guy down.
When the jock came my way, he didn’t even try to fake me out. He just ran past me like I was no threat to his business. I then chased after him and tailed him like an LAPD cruiser with my eyes fixed on the white ball. Just as I reached an arm’s length away from him, I became overwhelmed by this primal instinct to just go for it. I stretched my arms out, took a big leap and hurled my body towards him.
The next thing I remember is that I was on top of the jock, with his face flat on the ground. The game stopped completely at that point and a crowd started building around us. My gym teacher was laughing uncontrollably and my classmates were in various states of shock, awe, and amusement. The jock was stunned when he realized I was the perpetrator of his downfall – some Asian girl he barely spoke to. And when he scuffled off in embarrassment, the gym coach and his friends could not stop giving him shit. Meanwhile, my classmates asked me how I did it. I was perplexed and hypothesized that it may have come from wrestling with my older brother when we watched WWE. I tried to explain my technique (as if I had any) but all I remember doing was grabbing the guy’s legs and pulling them down with the full weight of my body at just at the right time.
I can’t say this childhood event is necessarily a life-changing peak moment. But when you’re a quiet, Asian girl it is pretty satisfying to execute a perfect tackle on a big white guy twice your size.
IRIS: I second the “wow”. I don’t know if this is a private peak moment, and in a way it was inadvertent. However, it is something I am proud of, brought tears to my eyes upon hearing, and is a moment which perhaps keeps me going despite all the lows and disappointments that comes with being an “artist”. I was speaking at a small film festival in Santa Cruz and backstage one of the organizers told me about his friend who is an ex-marine, who fought at Iwo Jima. It was a very brutal battle and the marine lost many of his friends there. But he managed to survive. He had “survivors guilt” so to speak and had very bitter feelings about the war. After watching the film that I wrote, however, he saw a new perspective which changed him profoundly so that after 60 years, he was finally able to put closure on the past. He no longer felt guilty for having survived. The organizer said his friend wanted to make sure I got his message. Of course, I can’t claim all the credit for the film, but I was really moved by the way the story was conveyed to me, it’s sincerity and the way it made me feel like I had done something good.
PHILIP: Hmm…I ate an extra large Round Table pizza with all the toppings in one sitting. Surprised even myself with that. Don’t judge!
DAVID: The obvious would be is when I became a Christian at the age of 12 and that’s a big “peak moment” for me.
But another peak moment that was also very significant was when I came to California from Hawai’i (I was 25 years old) and worked at a little architectural bookstore with a co-worker who was a heroin user (40 years old). From time to time he would fall a convulse on the floor into an uncontrollable seizure. I was the only person strong enough to hold him down and prevent him from swallowing his tongue and hitting his head on the desk leg. My comfortable life was disrupted by situations I only saw in movies… it got real for me.
The owner of the store knew this, but really wanted to help him with a job… nice guy. But I was on the watch if anything happened to him. I was uncomfortable and scared to see another incident and all I could do is endure while I had this job. “Dear God… what can I do?” So…I decided to befriend him and find how I could help. I tell you… it was not easy to do this, but I felt that I had to. Our common activities was eating dinner together and talking about life and how shitty the cards were dealt out to him. That went on for a while. No breakthrough.
One thing I knew… I was not a savior of any sort. I just wanted to make sure he knew he had a friend and that I could be there and give advice.
After a year I left the bookstore to pursue a better job and I bidded him farewell. And moved away about 25 miles near Glendale, California.
Should I have done something more drastic to help my friend? Go back and visit since he didn’t have a phone for me to call and say “hello”?
18 years later I still think of this event that lasted a year. It pains me to know that he might not be in the best condition or worse. But I hope that he found peace somehow.
And to continue knowing all this and that it has never faded from my memory softens my heart… I need to always remember. That’s my peak moment.