By LAURETTA HANNON, Commentary | Published September 17, 2023
My older sisters were supposed to keep an eye on me. We were all having fun, playing with a bunch of kids in a lake that summer.
At some point I start drifting away from the others and can’t get back. Unable to swim, I am entirely dependent on my Lifesaver candy-shaped float. I holler for help, but no one hears me amid the water gun fights, splashing, and yelling.
I know I’m in trouble. As the youngest, tiniest one there, I rapidly grow weak from furiously trying to get to safety. The harder I kicked my legs, the looser my grip becomes on the slick float. And then it happens: I disappear through the hole in the float and am underwater, eyes wide open.
I see movement in the murky water and sunlight beaming down like a spotlight. Water floods my lungs. Then I vacate my body and soar high above the lake. From this perch I can survey the entire scene below: the children laughing; my mother relaxing on the bank; and my limp body, face-down…the float just a few feet away.
There is no fear or emotion in being separated from my body. The sensation is that it’s okay and normal.
I view one of my sisters screaming, “Where’s Retta? Where’s Retta?” as she realizes I’m nowhere in sight. Horror washes over the faces in the lake. Mama runs to the edge of the water (she cannot swim either). And then just like that: someone plucks my lifeless body out and lays it on the bank. Mama is pounding the body on the back until a gush of water bursts forth, and I crash land back in my physical husk.
Recalling this experience, I think of something Writer James Finley said. I’m paraphrasing, but he said that God exhales you into life, and then he inhales and takes you back. In my case, he exhaled, inhaled, and exhaled once more. I’m ever mindful of that extra exhale. I bet you’ve been granted bonus exhales, too–plenty of which you don’t even know about.
If every minute of our existence is a willful gift from God, it prompts a question for us: Why was I allowed to live? Why was I given favor denied to so many?
It’s humbling to consider that life on earth–or in eternity–is merely a breath away. As long as I inhabit this human shell, there’s a rising urgency to get the important things right. Is it even possible? Who knows? Regardless, I must try. And to do that, I must live.
Lauretta Hannon is a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church, Cedartown. Named the “Funniest Woman in Georgia” by Southern Living Magazine, Hannon is a bestselling author. At work on a new book tentatively titled “A Priest Walks into a Waffle House,” she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.