My Road Goes Ever On
Back to Shore
International Friendships have made a powerfully positive difference in my life. One extraordinary incident taught me the value of their friendship…
When I was ten, my mom began renting out rooms to foreign students. Over the next eleven years, while I lived at home, I became friends with students from countries all over the world—Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Venezuela, Germany, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, India, and many others. Each man widened my understanding and appreciation of humanity.
One summer, my mom decided that we (the remnant of my family) deserved a little break. A change of pace. So she rented a little place on a lake for a week. Lake Danoon. It was beautiful, and the first real “vacation” I could ever remember. As glad as I was for a chance to enjoy “free time” without the daily grind, I soon realized that our renters made my life far more interesting than it would ever have been without them.
Three of the guys showed up on Saturday, and I remember how glad I was to see them. Not only did I miss our “Hi, how ya doing?” as we passed in the kitchen each day, but I also missed their presence. Their scholastic-obsessed good sense and hardworking example.
I had, in a fatally flawed bit of logic (given my arm strength) tried to row myself out onto the lake in the morning and did nothing but bump up against the shore for an hour. So when Wael, a Lebanese student studying engineering, Ting, a student from Singapore also studying engineering, and Bala, an Indian student, (I have no idea what he was studying but I knew he was deeply spiritual, making him wise if not brilliant in my eyes) showed up, I grabbed my chance and convinced them to get in the boat and head out into the middle of the lake. With me—of course. I was about fifteen at the time and acted like the cajoling little sister who could do no wrong.
We had a great deal of fun.
Until the boat started to leak.
Then the engine died.
No problem thought I. I have two engineers and a guru. Who cares about a little leak?
They did apparently.
Not one of the three men felt comfortable swimming in the middle of a lake.
Now that did surprise me. But good sense kicked in, along with engineering skills, and we, (they) managed to maneuver the boat back to shore. Safely.
So when the rental guy came over, I explained about the leak and the engine trouble, expecting him to apologize and show some level of gratitude for the fact that my friends had not only saved their own lives but the boat as well.
But no. The rental guy broke into a tirade. For some odd reason, the leak and the engine trouble were our fault. My fault.
Being true to my nature, I immediately felt guilty. Not only had I risked innocent lives on a lark, but I had also managed to enrage a boatman. Sheesh. I hardly deserved to live.
Now I had seen these guys deal with all levels of stress during the time they rented with us. Final exams, being away from family, economic hardships, and cultural crises, so I knew how each of them might react when confronted with trouble. I stepped in front of Wael, expecting him to bellow back at the boat guy. But no. He crossed his arms and glared. Then I glanced at Bala, expecting him to offer some consoling wisdom and smooth the fellow’s ruffled feathers. But no. He clasped his hands and stepped aside.
It was Ling, the quiet and most mild-mannered of men, who stepped up and described to the boatman—in a clear and loud voice—the exact disastrous proceedings and with an admonishing finger pointed at me. “And what about her? She could’ve drowned!” With matching glares, Wael and Bala nodded emphatically. That was the crux of the matter as far as they were concerned.
Without further argument, the boatman apologized and offered to refund the rental payment.
My mom, brother, and I returned home the following week, and life resumed its normal pace. School. Exams. Meals with spicy scents lingering in the kitchen. Cups of hot tea shared at the table. Hot summer days. Freezing winter evenings. Holidays. Ordinary realities.
But all my life, I have remembered those three men’s outrage. Not because they got stuck in a leaky boat in the middle of a lake with a kid who couldn’t row herself to shore. No. They were outraged because they feared for my life.
And as far as I knew, I was the only one who could swim.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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