One cold early evening many years ago, my wife, Bartie, and I set out in our cabin cruiser for a picnic dinner on southern San Francisco Bay. We waved to a college crew team heading out for a practice row, then proceeded down the channel toward the San Mateo Bridge. The choppy water soon turned into huge waves.
At the drawbridge, I signaled to the bridge tender to let us through. He shook his head, pointing to the whitecaps on the water ahead. We were about to take our pitching craft home, when in the distance, near some mud flats, we saw a ruby-colored light glowing, shimmering in the shape of a cross. Bartie and I were mesmerized.
We turned our craft in its direction. It was irresponsible of me— in shallow muddy water, an engine might suck up mud that can destroy it—but I felt compelled to follow the cross. Now mud was coming from the exhaust pipe, and the temperature of our engine had risen into the danger zone, but the light drew me on. Then we came up to it, only to find that the light was merely a buoy reflecting the red sunset.
Bartie and I felt foolish; we had actually risked our boat to chase a mirage.
“Look, the water is full of coconuts,” Bartie said. But they weren’t coconuts at all; they were the men from the rowing crew, whose shell had crashed into the bridge and sunk.
One by one we pulled them aboard. They had been in the water for over an hour. Facing death, gulping the icy salt water, they had come to a point of desperation and had prayed together for rescue. And that was when the cross began to shine for me.
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