The hot sun bore down on the holiday beach-bathers lined up on their oversized designer towels. The smell of seaweed and ocean tides mingled with the sweet aroma of coconut oil and piña colada tanning lotion. The breeze was welcome, but not quite enough to cool the bottoms of feet baked by walks in the hot sand.
I was one of these overtired, over-scheduled escapees to the island. I was lying on my stomach reading a book when I felt a gentle sensation trickling over my feet.
“There,” said Jesse. “I’m getting all the sand off, Mamaw. I’m washing your feet.”
A quick glance over my shoulder and I saw my five-year-old grandson dipping water from a little green pail with his sand shovel, then pouring each measured portion over my sandy, burning feet.
“All clean, Mamaw. Now doesn’t that feel better?”
The cool baptism was more than sacred to me. It had been only 48 hours since Jesse had been rushed by helicopter to Boston Children’s Hospital. Suzanne had been the only one allowed to travel the 30-minute trip with Jesse, her sweet boy confined in a neck brace and taped to a body board. I had followed by plane with Jesse’s daddy, Barry.
It had happened so fast. Suzanne and seven-year-old Will had gone on to the hotel from the beach on their bikes; Jesse and Barry were to follow giving Jesse a bit more time to play in the waves. Riding home Jesse got hot and thirsty and asked to stop for a drink. After waiting for a safe place to leave the bike trail to cross the busy road, they started across to the small store. “Come on, Jesse, let’s go.”
But for some reason Jesse was distracted and didn’t follow right away. By the time he had started across, a car appeared around a curve going too fast for the busy holiday weekend.
Barry had watched in horror as the car struck his child. Like slow motion in a bad movie, Jesse’s little body had been thrown into the windshield then hurled about 12 feet to land face down on the pavement.
“It’s Jesse,” the shaken voice had said on the phone when Bill answered the call.
“What is it, Barry? What’s happened?”
“I think he’ll be alright. Come to the hospital. Bring Suzanne. I couldn’t get her on the phone.”
Now we were moving like a bad slow-motion movie. Down the stairs, into the car, to get Suzanne and Will, through the tiny vacation-crowded streets, through the hospital corridors.
“It’s routine. We have no pediatric unit here. We always life-line children to Boston.”
But the reassuring tone in the nurse’s voice wasn’t nearly reassuring enough. We awaited every X-ray, every blood test, every CAT scan with an anxiety we weren’t able to put at rest.
I stood with Will and Barry and Bill to watch helplessly as our daughter and her little son lifted off in the helicopter. She waved weakly from the window — a wave reminiscent of the one she gave as a child herself through the window of the tiny commuter the first time we all said good-bye to this island.
Over the years our family had kept up a love affair with this magical place, and now we had returned with a new generation to make memories.
But this was not the sort of memories we had hoped to make.
“Please, God. You go with them. Go with us all.”
In a short time that seemed like an eternity we were waiting with Suzanne for more test results.
“Because of the mechanics of the accident, we need a few more pictures.” We listened to that sentence over and over. With the return of each piece of film, each scan, each test, the doctors would shake their heads.
“You are a fortunate little boy,” they would say to Jesse. “Tell all your friends to always wear their bike helmets like you did.”
The doctors had wanted to keep him overnight, so we kept a vigil. He slept like a very exhausted boy would and awakened wanting something to eat.
By noon the next day we had landed back on the island and were walking across the tarmac to meet Will and his Papaw Bill, overwhelmed by the miracle of legs that move, eyes that blink, a giggle that escapes from a mischievous little grin, and a wide little hand holding tightly to ours. The next day we were lying on the beach again, and a little boy was baptizing my feet.
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
Jesse hadn’t come to quite understand those words yet. But I understood what Simon Peter must have felt when the pure heart of God knelt to wash his feet.
“All clean,” said Jesse. “You’re all clean now.”
And by some miracle, I was.