The Stranger at Six Flags


This is a story difficult to write. I shudder even as my fingers touch the keyboard. Though it happened over a decade ago, it still has the power to send me into a near panic attack.

One of the traditions in our family is for me to take each of our children on a trip to Six Flags over Georgia when they turn 7.  Our son Seth turned 7 over the winter months, and so when spring came in 1999 the two of us rose early one morning and drove down from Elizabethton, Tennessee to Atlanta to enjoy the day on roller coasters, water rides, bumper cars and other amusements meant to thrill or bring smiles. It was a memorable day.

This story focuses on a bridge in the park. This bridge is strategically placed over one of the water rides. Those on the bridge, as the ride comes crashing down a steep slope, are splashed with water just as the ride hits the pool at the bottom of the slope. On a hot day it’s not uncommon to see people lined across the bridge waiting for the big splash to cool them.

It was hot that day, and so Seth & I exited the ride and made our way across to the bridge. We wanted to get wet. We took our place on the bridge and waited for the boat-like ride to come crashing down. It came, but we barely felt a sprinkle. We had stood too far to the side.

Later that day we rode the ride again. This time I was going to do it right. I watched from a distance to see where one would need to stand on the bridge in order to get the maximum impact of the splash. I was going to make sure we got wet.  The ride came. The splash splashed and I saw where to stand.

To further enhance the experience for Seth, I hoisted him onto my shoulders and took my place in the center of the bridge, standing along the back railing that reached from the floor of the bridge to my lower back. If the next splash was the like the last, we would get a refreshing drenching of a splash.  With Seth atop my shoulders, I stood in place–my arms loosely crossed over his bare little legs. Dad and son, creating a memory.

I did it! My calculations were right on. I had picked the perfect spot. With smiles on our faces we watched as the ride flew down the slope. It hit the pool and up came the water. We had the perfect spot; yet it was not so perfect.

I wasn’t prepared for the force. It hit us so hard that I stumbled back. I remember the fear that gripped me as I felt Seth’s legs slip. I clinched my arms tight on his thighs, which were now wet, terrified that I would lose my grip and he would drop. It only lasted a moment, but when it was over he was still on my shoulder and I was still standing.

I looked back behind us over the railing. If Seth had slipped off my shoulders he would have tumbled off the bridge into the water and right into the path of the ride. It could have been a very bad day.

Seth probably enjoyed that moment, never knowing he was ever in danger. I don’t remember. I say I don’t remember; I don’t remember his reaction. As for me, I was dazed. I was overwhelmed by my stupidity to have stood there so boldly.

Moments earlier we were laughing and enjoying the screams of others on the rides. Suddenly, for me the laughter was gone. Now, I was plagued with the thoughts of “what if.”

As we made our way off “the bridge,” totally wet but both still breathing, I walked along in a stunned stupor, totally unaware of anything going on around me. Yet, in the midst of my stupor I caught the eye of man leaning up against a wall that bordered the walkway leading from the bridge. The truth is that he caught my eye.  As he did, with an emotionless expression, he simply said five words to me, “I was praying for you.”

I don’t think I even responded. I couldn’t. He must have been standing there watching all of us on the bridge and then dumbfounded when he saw some idiot of a man place his son in such a precarious position. Yet, in that moment, he did what he could, he prayed for a stranger. He didn’t know us, but he prayed for us. He didn’t know our names, but he prayed for us. He didn’t know where we lived, but he prayed for us. He had nothing to gain personally, but he prayed.

I don’t know what his prayer may have been. Perhaps it was, “Lord, protect that little boy.” Or, “God, don’t let that boy fall.” Or maybe, “Father, send your angels down to keep that boy on those shoulders and help that stupid guy keep his footing.” Whatever he prayed, God answered, and I am grateful.

I don’t remember anything else about the rest of that day except for the ride back home to northeast Tennessee.  Seth & I took our seats in my 1976 white Ford Gran Torino. After an exhausting day it didn’t take long for Seth to succumb to his tiredness. So, with the wind rushing through the open windows on a warm spring night, and Seth asleep at my side, I spent the next four-plus hours glancing over at my healthy young son, thanking God for sparing him that afternoon. The whole ride home, that is all I did—only to pause occasionally to thank Him for someone else, a stranger who took the time to pray for a man and little boy at Six Flags.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Dan on June 25, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Chills

    Reply

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