I was with a group of Mountain View College students on an excursion to Blue Water Cave, a 90-minute ride from campus. The spot is famous for its beauty and inviting waters. I had been there in 2000 with some young people who were taking their water rescue training. It was all fun. So on this second visit, I brought my entire family.
During that first visit some years before, I hadn’t seen any danger swimming in the cave’s blue waters. But a student who lived nearby told me that people had died there because they went too far beyond the safety zone.
So I brought ropes, planning to use them as “boundary lines” for the safety of the students. The ropes were durable, having been tested in extreme sports competitions.
Upon reaching the mouth of the cave, I noticed a difference in the water this time. The current looked strong. I immediately asked where the dangerous part was. Banking on my experiences in survival swimming, I tied the rope around my waist, asked a student to tie the other end to the trunk of a small tree at the mouth of the cave. Then I swam across to fix the rope to a strategic point. Failing to see a stalagmite where I could tie the rope, I was swept by the current, where I almost hit the sharp edge of a rock underneath the surface.
Seeing deep water under the rock, I warned the students not to swim near that point. I also told my two young daughters, eagerly awaiting my signal, to stand by until I knew where they could wade and swim safely.
A second time I swam to look for a point on which to tie the rope, but I didn’t see any. Some boys were now swimming, and I was afraid they might be swept away by the current.
The cave separates into a Y shape. To the right was a wide passage that went farther into the darkness of the cave. To the left was a smaller passage that led to the wild and murky Pulangi River. It seemed that both directions spelled danger.
Giving up on being able to tie the rope across, I decided to survey the water by swimming to know where the current would lead if ever someone would come to the spot before the cave separated to the left and right.
A Micronesian student, a good swimmer and diver, volunteered to do it, but I believed it was safer for me to do it since I had the rope. I instructed some students to hold the rope and pull it in case the current started taking me away. Barely a moment after I jumped into the water the current swept me off and pinned me to the wall of the cave!
I reached up to grab the stalactites and struggled to lift my body out of the water. But the current pushed my small frame under the rock that formed a covered tunnel that was full of water. I felt tension on the rope as the students tried to pull me out from under the rock, but the current proved stronger. Familiar with underwater swimming, I didn’t panic.
But the more the students pulled the rope, the more I felt trapped by the strong current. Had I been able to communicate with them, I would’ve told them to let go of the rope. Soon I was struggling to breathe.
I fought to untie the rope from my waist, but I had to use both hands to keep my body from being pushed up against the rough surface of the top of the tunnel. Fear seized me as my lungs ached for air. I began to accept that my earthly life was nearing an end.
Despite my helpless struggle, my mind was clear. Sensing my imminent demise, I distinctly remember praying, “God, when You come, please save me.”
Why I didn’t ask the Lord to save me from death right then and there, I don’t know. All I wanted was to be in heaven with my family, who, at the time didn’t know what was happening to me. My daughters, standing nearby, thought it was part of my “look-see” to see what was under the rock. My wife and son were a little distance from the spot where students were preparing lunch. Little did they know that I was desperately struggling for life underneath the surging waters.
Almost at the point of passing out, I saw the brilliance of the sun piercing through the water. It seemed that I must be near the other opening of the tunnel, and I resumed my struggle. At that moment the students holding the rope, realizing they couldn’t pull me back, let go of the rope, not knowing where the current would take me. I came out at the other end of the tunnel, the length of the rope barely reaching the mouth of the rock on the other side.
When I broke the surface of the water, people stared at me in disbelief. They must’ve wondered how I got out alive; my head, chest, arms, hands, and feet were bleeding from being scraped by the underwater rocks.
As my wounds were being treated, an outdoor enthusiast who was well acquainted with the place confirmed that several lives had been lost in that cave.
Learning to Live
We all face death sooner or later. Some of us may have a brush with death in different forms before it claims us once for all. My brush with death was scary because my mind was clear as I struggled alone under the treacherous rock and cruel waters.
1. When have you experienced a brush with death? Describe it briefly.
2. What were your thoughts as you were going through it? What went through your mind when you realized you had survived?
3. Why does it take a close encounter with our own mortality to make us take life seriously?
4. What is your legacy? What will people say about you when you're gone?
As I went back to that deadly spot a little later to take some pictures and reflect by myself, the words of the wise man came to me: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone” (Eccl. 12:13, NRSV).*
When we are about to enter death’s door, what would we see as really important in life? King Solomon, who knew life in its variety, was confronted by this question at his twilight days. In his own review and evaluation of life, he realized our ultimate duty is to “Fear God, and keep his commandments.”
Jesus Christ summed up the essence of God’s commandments as loving God and loving our fellow humans (Matt. 22:35-40). Do we honestly love God? Then it is manifested in our obedience to the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3-11). Do we sincerely love others? That is demonstrated in our observance of the last six commandments (Ex. 20:12-17). That is our whole duty while living this momentary life. Nothing less and nothing else is really meaningful.
What footprints will we leave behind? Will they inspire others to serve God and love humanity?
Will they lead those following us to the son of God who alone gives eternal life (John 3:16)?
We will if we fear God and keep His commandments.
* Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Jimmy Jiamah V. Adil, Jr., wrote this while a faculty member at Mountain View College in the Philippines. He enjoys preaching, writing, counseling, and with his wife, raising three children. This article was published November 11, 2010.