It’s the time of year that I start getting ready for a beach trip! We’ve gone to the beach almost every summer, visiting a variety of beaches depending on where we lived. This year I am looking forward to our trip later this summer, but there is one trip that stands out because it was like no other. This trip shook me to the core with both fear and gratitude.
This beach trip was 11 years ago. Our first baby was about to turn a year old, and it was his first time to go to the beach. My husband and I couldn’t wait to see how he experienced all of the senses of the salty air, the sound of the waves, and the ocean breeze. We met extended family for our trip and all stayed in the same beach house. My adorable 3 year old twin brothers were there. I was looking forward to seeing how they liked the beach this year too, especially since they could communicate more and more, and they were so fun to play with.
On a Sunday afternoon, we all went down to the beach together. One of my brothers was wearing a bright orange shirt, which made it easy to spot him as we all walked to the beach. I held my baby boy, and my brothers held hands with grown-ups as we made the short trek to the beach. That orange shirt is now seared into my mind. The adults all decided on a good place to put our beach chairs and towels, and we took a few seconds to set everything down. We had to put things down quickly because we had 3 very young children with us. Within the seconds that it took to unfold a beach chair, my dad’s wife asked where my little brother was. He had been holding hands and walking with us just seconds before. We had just set our beach bags down. There hadn’t been time for him to run anywhere, and we were too far from the water for him to logically gotten in. He had vanished in the middle of all of us.
This is one of the only times in my life I recall being truly terrified. My dad’s wife started yelling my brother’s name as loudly as she could in all directions. My dad started running down the beach looking for him while I ran to tell the lifeguard that my brother was missing. The whole time I was thinking, “This isn’t happening. It can’t be happening. He must be ok. He has to be ok.” The minutes we looked for him felt suspended in time. As we all looked for him, a young lady came over to my dad and his wife and pointed to a sandy area close to where our towels were. She said she saw a sand hole there earlier, and she had a very strong sense that he was trapped under the sand. My husband, my dad, and by then a crowd of others started frantically digging with both hands in the sand as quickly as they could. As they continued digging, we saw my brother’s blond ringlets appear underneath the sand. They pulled my little brother out, and there we was in his orange shirt looking at us. He had been swallowed up by a sand hole in seconds as we sat down.
Several of us started crying with relief. My brother seemed dazed, but he also seemed all right. My dad and his wife took him to the hospital immediately to make sure he hadn’t inhaled any sand or had any other injuries. I walked back up to the beach house holding my baby. I was shaking in the bright sunlight, unable to process what had just happened.
We all learned a lot about sand holes after this experience, and how to prevent this from happening to someone else. Sometimes people dig large holes in the sand while they’re playing on the beach, unaware that this is potentially extremely dangerous. If you see sand holes on the beach, fill them with packed sand. If you see people making large sand holes, ask them to fill them completely. We still marvel at the fact that my brother was in the sand hole for probably 3-5 minutes and was unharmed. We wonder if there was a large pocket of air in the sand hole that protected him. He said that while he was in the sand hole, it felt like he was dreaming. To us, his rescue was a miracle.
A couple of years ago my extended family met with the young woman who helped to save my brother. Instead of my brothers being 3 year olds, they were pre-teens and my baby boy was now almost as tall as me. We all met and had ice cream together, amazed at how we had all changed and grateful for how our lives had intersected. The same extended family will go to the same beach together this summer, full of gratitude for that miracle so many years ago.