I recently heard a tale. I think it's true. I want to share it and let you decide, if it's true.
It was a beautiful morning. I love breakfast. I decided to take myself out to a restaurant, to do some serious eating.
As I pulled into McDonalds, I saw a large, muscular, rough and tough looking man, standing in the parking lot. He was dirty and unshaven. He looked as if he had worked three days and nights, straight, without food or sleep. He looked desperate and exhausted. As dangerous and intimidating as he appeared, it was obvious he needed help.
As I moved, to enter the restaurant, he approached me. He was trembling, with anxiousness. I have never seen any one so humbled, so desperate for help. He clutched an old, paperback copy of the "Good News Bible." It was all he carried.
I thought for sure he was going to ask me for money. He didn't. He was not a bum. In fact, he was a hard-working man, who had recently survived a near death experience. He needed a place to rest. He asked if I knew a place he could sleep.
I invited him to come in to the restaurant and have some breakfast with me. I told him we would talk, and I'd give him some advice and direction. As we ate and talked, he began to tell me his incredible story.
His name was John. He was a fisher,* by trade. John had just hitch-hiked to Clearwater, Florida, from Galveston, Texas. Some time ago, he sailed from a port near Clearwater, called St. John's Pass. His plan was a safe return, by ship, when he completed a fishing excursion. Events turned tragic. John barely made it back alive.
John and his crew sailed into the Gulf of Mexico while Hurricane Gustav was still far-off, in the Atlantic Ocean. It was uncertain which way the storm was going. The captain decided to sail. The decision turned out to be foolish, and nearly fatal.
The Coast Guard and weather offices altered the captain, of the ship John was working, to return to port." Well," said John, "that's not so easy to do when you're over 100 miles out in the ocean. Best we could do was turn. What we thought was away from the storm, ended up running right in to it."
The waves grew larger and larger. The winds became incredibly strong. "We were all terrified," said John. "There was nothing in site but water, and we were stuck right in the middle of a hurricane."
Not a good place to be. We began to think, said John, "This is it. It's over. We're done."
Everyone was shouting and trying to hold on for dear life. That's when it happened. John flew overboard, and nobody knew it.
John smashed his jaw, against the stern of the boat, when tossed overboard. He showed me his face. His jaw was swollen, large, distorting his face.
His jaw, he said, "felt as if his whole face had been crushed. He said, "I can hardly open my mouth."
To make matters worse, as John plummeted down deep into the ocean, his hand hooked on one of the large bait hooks, used to deck fish. "I was caught," said John, "trapped deep beneath the water."
He had no choice but to rip his hand loose from the hook or drown. He showed me the deep hole, in his right hand, where the hook had snared him, nearly costing him his life. It was a horrible looking wound. It went through his hand.
"As I swam up to the top of the water," John said, "I saw the ship had pulled far away from me." No one knew he was missing. He said he started yelling, "Help!" None could hear him, over the rage of the storm. About 40 minutes later, someone noticed John missing. The ship turned around. Could they find John?
He just left me hanging there. I said, "Hold on a minute, John. How did you survive? How did you keep from drowning? I mean, come on. You're leaving out the most important part."
It was then that he told me what I believe a miracle. "The dolphins saved me," John said. "I thought for sure my life was over. I was praying so hard. I was repenting of every sin, every wrong I did. All I had was prayer. I begged for salvation.
"The ocean was full of sharks," he said. "I was bleeding badly from my wounded hand. I knew I wasn't going to last long. My time on this earth was about to be over. It was time for me to die.
"Then the dolphins came. Dolphins kill sharks. Sharks are afraid of dolphins. All of a sudden I found myself surrounded by 15 or 20of dolphins.
"The dolphins started swimming circles around me, creating a whirlpool force. This kept me from sinking,under the water. The dolphins made it possible for me to keep my head above the water.
Dolphins are smart like that," said John.
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Why would dolphins care for him? Why would they help him? How could they know that his ship would return for him, if they hung around long enough? Why bother saving him? You would think, even a dolphin could obviously see the doom. For some reason, they felt compelled to help him until help could arrive. To me, that is without a doubt, a miracle. How can you explain it any other way?
Another part of the story is also miraculous: the fearless and self-sacrificing return of his crew to save his life. The ship had to turn around, go back, heading back into the storm, to look for him, knowing he had likely already drowned. Still, for the remote chance he was still alive, the crew risked their lives to look for him.
John saw this as no big deal. He said with confidence, "I knew they would come back for me. It's the code, of those who fish for a living. We go out together. We come back together. Nobody gets left behind, no matter the cost."
I believe John's crew deserves a gold medal or a purple heart for bravery. They deserve something. I don't believe any fisher would've turned back to look for John under those circumstances. I think they were great of heart and brave.
Imagine yourself out there, alone in a hurricane sea, injured, your only hope the bravery of others. Doomed to perish, and suddenly dolphins appear. They say, "Don't worry, our human friend, we've got your back. We'll look out for you until help comes."
How can you not believe in the miraculous? I believe those dolphins came to protect and save the life, of John.
John didn't tell me every detail of his experience or of his journey back to Clearwater, Florida. He only continued to stress how exhausted he was, how badly he needed a place to rest. I referred him to some social service agencies in the area that I knew would help him. He asked me if I might have a clean shirt that would fit him. I lent him a clean shirt.
John never did ask me for a dime. He wasn't a bum. He was a fisher. A fisher blessed with a second chance at life. A fisher who will have a "fish story" he can pass on down to his children and grandchildren one day.
I asked John, as I shook his hand, goodbye, "Are you going to go back out on the ships again after going through an experience like that?
"Jokingly," I suggested, "You might consider a new career in telemarketing. The telemarketing capital of the world is Clearwater, Florida."
He looked at me in all seriousness, and said, "You know, that's exactly what I was thinking about doing. It's funny you should mention that."
I wish him the best in his new career.
M Adam Roberts lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida.
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