Drowning in the River Arnon


“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” 

Dylan Thomas 



One moment we were swimming and wading down the Biblical River Arnon in Wadi Mujib, Jordan, the next moment I was drowning.

It happened so fast.

I turned around to tell Larry I would go over the falls (intentionally, for fun), while he took the other route down a ladder, but as I started to talk, the rock I was standing on moved. Before I knew it, nature did her thing and I was struggling for my life.

When the rock shifted under me, it pinned my left foot. As I fell, the river tossed me right over the edge. I was dangling over the falls with thousands of pounds of water holding me down, pinned upside down to the rocks behind me.

Because of the force of the water, I couldn’t move my arms to try to free my own foot. I couldn’t sit up and if I screamed I’d swallow water and lose air faster.

As I was held under longer, and longer, and I continued to lose air, I told myself to be calm. I was drowning and could do nothing.

It is interesting how I acted and what I thought when I was faced with my own death. First I thought, “Larry will be so disappointed.” Second I thought, “What an ironic way for me to die. As a lifelong swimmer and water-woman, drowning seems pretty far from the realm of what may have killed me.”

I suddenly snapped out of it. I decided to fight. I pushed as hard as I could with my left arm, trying to lift myself out of the falls. I tried to move my right hand towards my mouth to cover it and create a pocket of air to breathe from under the flowing water…I flailed and yelled. It was futile, but I fought.

I started to hiccup and knew I was out of air.

The last thing I thought as I was about to black out was, “I would change nothing about my life.”

Then my foot was free.

In the pool below the falls, a man named Aaron said he saw me struggling when he reached the pool above me, so he quickly dove underwater to free my foot.

I didn’t know, but at the time Larry had started moving towards me too.

Here is what I know now.

I came away from almost drowning, with my life, a strained deltoid, and some perspective.

Life can change in a split second.

I’m fortunate that I am alive.

I’m fortunate that Larry and this man Aaron were aware and able to see I needed help.

I’m fortunate that when I was struggling, I tried to save myself.

Later, as I recovered physically from the experience, my mind raced. I asked myself a lot of tough questions. I grappled with my purpose, my direction, my choices, and many other things. Though I don’t have answers to those questions, it is cathartic to realize that in the blink of an eye, my opportunity to answer any of them might have flown away into the spring afternoon.

At the same time I was struggling for my life in the river, my friend Shahira was visiting her dying grandmother in Palestine.

When we met up after the weekend and told each other our stories, Shahira said, “Death is a test for the living.”

What she meant was that when faced with the death of a loved one, or even our own death, we should stop and think. About what? Well, that is different for everyone.

Complacency and taking for granted the things that seem so simple, so easy, is the waterfall that sometimes holds me down in life. It took an actual waterfall trying to drown me to realize that there are definitely some things I can adjust in my life to make it better; my own attitude being one thing.

These days, I can’t get the Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not go gentle into that Good Night,” out of my head. Although the poem is about his father losing his sight and the author’s own struggles with alcoholism and dying young, the broader meaning is that we all must fight in life. We must fight against our own weaknesses, our circumstances, our limitations and work hard to make the life we envision.

Thankfully, almost drowning in the River Arnon helped me realize this. I am still here, there is still so much to fight for.

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