WHEN I started swallowing water, I gave up hope. I was so tired I didn’t want to swim anymore. The “rip” or “undertow” had dragged me a long way from the beach, which was now just a long white band topped with greenery, a meaningless mirage I couldn’t reach. I had no surfboard; I had simply headed out for a light-hearted body surf, a splash around in the sea.
That was more than an hour earlier. The rip at first had seemed very gentle, and she lured me in like a femme fatale. I was grateful when she helped me easily reach the surfing zone where the breaking waves offer the best rides. But then she showed her dark side, and dragged me further. Foolishly I didn’t swim crossways, but attempted a beeline back to the shore. Rocked around by the big silent waves, it gradually dawned on me that I was going backwards. My head was sometimes up, sometimes down. Confused, I lost track of when to breathe. I was trying to cough up the salty water but losing the battle.
Years earlier, in my mid-teens, I had been quite religious. For about two years, I read the bible daily and harboured a silent ambition to be a protestant minister. The stories of Jesus’s kindness and persecution fascinated me. I was uncomfortable with the Old Testament, and I couldn’t reconcile Moses and his “eye for an eye” with my humble hero. But the person who really challenged my belief was, of course, Judas. I could never justify his betrayal of Jesus. Either fear of Jesus’s superpowers, experienced first hand, or a beautiful brotherly love, would have prevented it. So, true to myself, I abandoned the whole thing.
Or so I thought. About to drown, I somehow found myself talking to God, offering a deal. “Save me, and I’m yours again. Church, every week. Devotion. Anything.” In a few moments a different wave pushed me and carried me inwards, not outwards. Five minutes later I was lying on the sand, exhausted but safe. It was unbelievable. I don’t believe in miracles, and quickly decided that statistics had saved me, not any God. Random things happen, I told myself, and I skipped the church and devotion.
If I’ve been wrong, I guess I’m really going to burn. Hell would know the fury of a ripped-off deity.
Perhaps helping charity will lighten any wrath. I used to find it frustrating that there are so many charities doing similar things. “Amalgamate them, cut costs, bring in efficiency”, I said. But it’s dawned on me that having so many charities is a good thing – they become people’s pet projects and a lot of work is done for passion, not for money. One superb charity is the Sick Children’s Trust.
Come and join me on Thursday at their celebrity Christmas Carols and Readings at All Hallows Church, London. www.sickchildrenstrust.org.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK. www.farleigh.com