Duty, Strangers and Family
“You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” The old mission statement at the Grand Haven (Mich.) Lifeguard Station.
James Pribram saved a woman’s life last weekend near the blowhole on the Pearl Street reef. It was a difficult rescue in cold water that nearly ended in tragedy.
What struck me the most deeply about James’ rescue was that he never wondered if he should risk his safety to help a stranger in real distress. He simply did.
I grew up for most of my childhood in Grand Haven, Mich. It’s a small beach town that becomes a tourist mecca in the summers. It’s known as Coast Guard City USA because of all the shipwrecks that happened where the largest river in Michigan flows out to meet the Great Lakes.
The surfmen at the lifesaving station that later became the Coast Guard station had a motto: “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” James’ rescue reminded me of that history and that sense of duty to help strangers; to risk one’s own life to protect another’s.
Monday was also the third anniversary of my best friend’s death in Iraq. Mark Metherell and I were Wheaton College roommates and he grew up in Laguna Beach. He introduced me to surfing in Southern California in the late ‘80s.
When my wife and kids and I were moving to this area from Seattle, his comment was, “You have to move to Laguna Beach, or I’ll kill you.” Mark had an elegance and economy with words. He felt that this town was uniquely special. We moved across the street from him and his family on Brooks Street.
Mark was a Navy SEAL who later became one of a very elite group of military advisors training Iraqi and Afghani special forces. He and the Iraqi soldiers traveling with him were killed by a massive IED on an early morning raid into Sadr City to capture dangerous, high-profile targets. He was helping those strangers develop the skills to reshape their own communities.
Mark also lived by the motto that you have to go out, but don’t have to come back. He believed that loving your neighbor sometimes meant risking your own life in service to them.
So last Monday, I took a friend from Hawaii, Rollins Wood, surfing near Laguna. As I was reflecting on Mark’s death and Jamo’s rescue, he asked me, “I’ve been thinking about moving to the mainland, but I was concerned if there are local communities here that act like ohanas, like families, in Southern California.”
I said, “Yeah, Laguna has that.”
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.