A Walk Along The River

1513242_10202372133760028_1044402804_nI have decided to share this story, this very true story, on Christmas. It’s a gift to you as it was to me when told to me by my friend. It was a bitter cold winter in Saint Louis. Gray, cold, snow and ice every day, for weeks. As I sat at my desk at Maritz doing my project head things, worrying about binder ring sizes and tabs for the next pitch going out, my phone rang. I picked it up and I heard my friend and ex-coworker Kathy say, “I must see you. Need to see you now to tell you something.” Kathy was always a positive person, filled with light and positive thoughts. The sound on the phone was so different, so serious. I said, without thinking, “yes, you bet, name the place and I will be there…”

To share a side note, Kathy B had been a project head like me and the 1,000-plus other creative support types in the motivation company. She was very creative, very driven to do the best effort, the right thing, but six months earlier the stress of the day-in, day-out of the job made her decide to leave. Everyone in the group was sad, but not surprised. I had seen a pattern over the years. Those that joined the creative staff (you know – the largest in the world after Disney and Hallmark at the time) would hit a wall at the 6 to 8 month window of service. They would either “pop” and walk out or if they pushed on through, they could spend their lives at Maritz. I had seen some amazing “career pops” ranging from a guy who went a bit nuts and walked down highway 44 naked out in front of the offices, to a women who quit by writing “I QUIT!” on a sticky note and leaving it in the middle of her desk. She took nothing and when her manager tried to call the phone said that the number had been disconnected. Kathy was none of these, instead in a warm good-bye, she quit and left us. A few of us stayed in touch with her, keeping up in those ancient times before Facebook and twitter with phone calls and lunches, but it had been a while.

As I left Maritz and headed to Webster Groves to see what Kathy wanted to share, I grabbed my close buddy John Schwent to tag along (partly because I was fearful it was something on the home front or a death of a family member and wanted John’s help). As we walked up to Kathy sitting at the table, I could see that her face was black and blue and she had a huge black eye. I feared she had been mugged or beaten up. My heart sank and then she smiled, making me stop in my tracks. She jumped up and hugged both John and me while saying very loudly “you are going to think I am nuts, but boy, do I have a story…”

We quickly ordered and she jumped in; John and I sat on one side of the table, Kathy on the other. She was radiating peace, joy and something more. For the next two hours, we were riveted to her tale and adventure. What I am about to tell you came to me first person and within hours of it happening. Over the past 20-plus years since hearing it, I have often thought back to it and was so glad that Kathy shared it with John and me. It is one of those lasting connections and sharing that leaves you with more in your heart than when you showed up that day.

Kathy jumped right in… (the following is her story)

I know you are looking at my face thinking “what happened to you? Were you beat up?” so I want to put you at ease that I am all right and that I feel great and what I am about to tell you happened to me in the past 48 hours. It is all fresh in my mind AND my heart. It is amazing.

It started in October at a Halloween party at a friend’s house in Soulard. For fun and with the Halloween theme, this friend hired a “spirit channeler” to read people and stuff. I hate that stuff, never feels right, so I stayed away from the guy and just had fun. The party went on for some time and around 1AM we all started to break up and head home. As I was leaving, the “channeler guy” came rushing to the door, abruptly grabbed me and said “your guardian angel’s name is Jerral, call him when you need him. REMEMBER HIS NAME: JERRAL!” By then I was able to pull away and get out the door and thought “that was weird, this guy was strange…” and on with my life I went.

Well, you know how horribly cold and rainy it has been the past month and a few days? No sun, just wind, ice and then it snowed the other day. Well, we had that break in the weather and the sun was out, still cold but the roads were cleared. So I called a friend and invited her to go cross-country skiing along the Meramec River, that we would park at Shaw Nature Reserve way out on 44 and ski along the river. She thought that sounded great; any chance to get out and be in the fresh air doing something was a welcome change.

We met up in the morning around 9AM, I had my black lab, Jake, and she had her two dogs. We brought packed lunches and set out. For a few hours, we skied along the riverfront heading deeper into the woods. The whole time the river was frozen over, solid ice. Snow on the ground and ice in the trees made it so pretty. The dogs were being great. It was a nice morning.

Well, close to 1:30 we stopped at a clearing, with a few logs on the ground to eat. The river was right in front of us, and there was a big opening in the river ice. The opening was a good 30 feet wide, then more ice and another opening about the same size. The water was rushing fast, with logs in the water bumping the ice and big ice chunks all making a loud grinding sound as they came close to the opening and then popped out. It was mesmerizing to watch. My friend and I sat quietly, eating and resting and watching the river.

The dogs were playing with each other, chasing around one dog, and then another. Being like dogs, they just had to play. All of a sudden the three of them were out on the river ice, which was covered with snow and I stood up. I heard the very loud cracking sound and the next thing they were in the river. You could see the fear in their faces and they were paddling as hard and fast as they could to try and go upstream towards the edge of the ice.

I didn’t think, I just ran from where I was out and onto the ice. Reaching out to try and grab the dogs, I lay down and reached out and grabbed Jake’s neck. At that second, the ice I was lying on cracked, leaned forward and I was in the river. The dog was clawing at me and scratching my face. I now was in THE fight for my life. I was swimming as hard as I could to move upstream toward the front ledge of the ice, next thing I knew my head was slammed against the ice on the other edge, I flipped around and grabbed it with my elbows. I let go of my beloved friend Jake and he slipped under the ice, but now I was held there as the river rushed and pushed me, trying to pry me from the ice edge. It gave me time to think, not much, but enough. Out of the corner of my eye I could see, but not hear, my friend screaming and running back and forth on the rivers edge. Ice and logs where slamming into me. I realized that the next opening down river was 300 feet and then after that, no openings for the two to three hours we skied. In other words, this was it.

In that moment, the current was so strong it pulled me under the ice. As I scraped along under the ice, in the raging river being hit with ice and logs, I was so mad at myself for getting myself into this. My hands were scraping along (she held up her fingers which were still black and blue and cut up) on the bottom of the ice. I thought of my husband, my family, and my life. I was not ready to give it all up.

So as I popped out in the next open area, in the middle of the river, I was determined to live, to fight, to try as hard as I could. At that second, I hit the next edge of the ice in the river. Again with my elbows, but by then the cold was getting to me and I was very worn out, I slipped and my hands now had the ice edge and as I started to go under… yes… I screamed “JERRAL, HELP ME, SAVE ME!”

At that second, I am not sure what happened, but I was on the riverbank, far back, on the ground and on my back. I started to go into shock and shake uncontrollably. I thought, “oh no, we have to hike all the way back to were the car is, I will freeze to death.” At that second, a kid on a dirt bike showed up, yes, a big dirt bike. He looked at me, and later told me I was blue, a dark blue color, and he knew I was dying. He told me to get on the bike and off we went. I held on the best I could and after a long time, we were in the parking lot. As we got close, I thought “oh no, my friend has the car keys and there is no one else around and a hospital is 40 minutes away.”

As we pulled up and out of the woods into the lot, there was a paramedic truck sitting there. The two guys had stopped to have a late lunch and just happened to be there. They rushed me to the hospital. Amazingly, I had no long-term damage, no broken legs. My husband picked me up and I went home that night.

My friend that went on the ski adventure came over. We both cried about the loss of our dear friends in the river, about the trauma of the day. After a while, I was able to stop crying and we talked. I said to her, “thank you for saving me, you pulled me out of the river and saved my life. Thank you.” She looked at me with an expression of ‘you have no idea do you’ –and she went on to tell me the event from her viewpoint.

She said that as I ran out on to the ice and lay down she thought,“oh no, Kathy, stop” but it all happened so fast, in seconds you were in the river. Then at the ice edge, and then under it. I had no time, I was running around freaking out, yelling and I had no idea what to do. I was so afraid; I was paralyzed watching you as you came out in the second opening. I was at the river’s edge and you were in the middle of the river, something like 150 to 200 feet away from me. As you were slipping under, I was thinking “how were we going to find you under the miles of ice we skied along?” Then I heard you yell something, very loud and the next thing… She stopped at that moment all choked up, tears in her eyes, gasping to say what she was about to… I saw you lift out of the water, like someone was holding you. You moved through the air fast, but not that fast, more like someone taking you with care and laying you down on the ground. I swear to you, Kathy, you floated, yes, floated out of the river, in the air. I wasn’t even sure I was going to tell you, I thought you would think I was nuts, but I saw it all. I can’t explain it but it was amazing.

The next day, I wanted to go back to where I was. My husband was against it, but I wanted to see if we could find Jake and bring him home. So we went. We ended up on the other side of the river; there was a path that was easier to get to the spot and it was on a cliff on the other side overlooking the river and the spot where it all happened. We could still see in the snow where my friend and I sat, my footprints onto the river ice. It made me realize how close to dying I had come.

As I looked, my husband said, “Look, Kathy, you can see in the second ice opening and the ledge where you were grasping to hang on. Wow, you were in the middle of the river. Next you see how far you went out of the river and over to the log where you had been sitting. No footprints near the river or on the ice, and your friend was way down where you went in. It looks like you popped out and did float 250 feet to that spot. How is that possible? How did you do that?”

At that second, a man walked up with a black lab. He had a great smile and was a very friendly, older guy but with a young step in his walk. While the dog wasn’t Jake, he felt familiar. As he looked out at the scene he said ‘what happened here, you should not be sad about, you are safe and the friends you lost are in a better place and you will see them again. Go live your life and love it every day’ and then he was off down the path and was gone in seconds. We both stood there looking at each other thinking ‘who was that and what they heck did he mean?’

That is when I realized that was Jerral and he had my dog.

After Kathy shared this amazing story, we talked for sometime and she shared what she wanted to do with her life, how after leaving Maritz she was a bit lost but now had ideas and drive to do more. That she felt happy to be alive, and that while sad to lose Jake, she knew that he was in good hands.

Kathy went on to do many things. Her creativity went through the roof. She helped start the Banana Bike Brigade in Saint Louis, opened a daycare center, started doing art.

I share this story with you on Christmas as a gift. It was a gift I received all those years ago and I have often thought back on seeing Kathy tell it to John and me. The peace, the light, the joy that she gave me in the telling still comes to me as I type these words.

Over the years I have had other interesting stories dealing with angels and will share them when the time is right. I can say this, they seem to be more active in our lives than we believe they are.

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