One time, I froze when I should have acted. When I recall it now, many years later, the memory lands in my body as a punch to the gut.
I was 19, working as a lifeguard at a local swim club. It was a small pool, and lifeguard procedure was not a strict as it is now. I sat in a plastic chair on the pool deck, twirling my whistle lanyard around and around my finger.
There was a man with his baby girl there that evening. She must have been about two, maybe a little younger. Over and over, he lifted her up to the edge of the pool, and she would jump, squealing with laughter, her little fat arms and legs reaching for her father. They played this game a few feet from where I sat.
Oh, man, I really hate telling this story. But here goes.
He put her up on the wall and looked away for a split second. She jumped. She went under. He heard the splash and turned around, pulling her up, comforting her as she wailed. And he glared at me over her wet curls, because I hadn’t moved. I had been watching the whole time, but I didn’t move a muscle. I froze in the face of danger.
I’m going to leave it there, because I want to talk about the intention behind the story. But first I’m going to release the urge to beat myself up. Again. *breathe*
Okay, back to the story. I have options.
- I could use it as a vehicle to talk about the evolutionary responses to danger and what I’ve learned over the years about how I process fear.
- I could use it as a launching point to explore how disappointing others is one of my greatest worries.
- I could use it as a parallel story to the estrangement with my own father, which was at its peak during that time of my life.
My point here is that any event in our lives can be told with multiple intentions, and the first inclination might not always be the best path to follow. One linear 5-minute event from your past can be used to explore a variety of different messages you want to share with your audience.
And, considering that, one story could result in multiple pieces of writing, all with different intentions, each with their own unique perspectives.
How cool is that?