XIII: Death. Sometimes, it gets a little too real.

Months have passed since this happened. I needed time to think about what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it. What was the lesson in this sad experience? What would I have to share?

Last summer, I cast frequent readings for myself and situation, as I went through a particularly turbulent transition. In early August, I pulled the Death card for the immediate future. My gut flipped over as I thought, what more could I let go of this year? I lost my dad in January, and the Death card showed up for me the day of his passing, as he succumbed to post-operational pneumonia, following heart surgery. I said my goodbyes to him when he was still on life support, and later when my mom called with the news, I was still looking at the cards in front of me. Death was right there, in the near future position of the Celtic cross spread. Now, the card appeared again, and I wondered who or what would pass away from my life? 

Shortly after summer solstice, I surrendered custody of my daughters and sold or gave away the overwhelming majority of my stuff, to follow a glimmer of hope for more progressive health care and a better chance at meaningful work in the Portland, Oregon, area. I was feeling stupid for leaving my daughters in their fathers’ care, since they had seen each other only once in the three weeks since I had left, I felt no closer to finding work or home, and I didn’t even have health insurance yet. I felt like I had already lost everything of value in my life: the chance of enjoying the early years of my daughters’ childhoods, since they were just 6 and not yet 2. 

To distract myself from all this pain, I decided to meet with a man from craigslist: a tall, dark, and charming British emigre in his early 40’s, who invited me out for blackberry harvesting and a visit to Kelley Point, on a Thursday in early August. 

At Kelley Point, my new acquaintance and I saw two men walking along the river with a  little boy of about 2 years old. One man happily pointed out a frog swimming in the Columbia Slough, about 30 yards from the mouth of the Willamette. The little boy splashed in the shallow water. My heart ached with longing for time with my daughters. I watched as they walked back up to the edge of the point, together.

I learned how to swim when I was about 4, and the slough was narrow, so I ventured across the slough and back, picking up garbage from the opposite bank and collecting river clams. I didn’t have a swimsuit, but I didn’t mind swimming in my shorts and t-shirt. The current was strong, but not overpowering. When I crossed back, carrying all the garbage I could find in a plastic bag tied to a stick, my pockets stuffed with river clams, I heard crying and yelling from up at the point.

A couple of women on the beach with the little boy, and one of the men I’d seen earlier, had watched their friend disappear under the water – the one who, minutes before, had been delighted to see a frog swimming. Someone had already called 9-1-1. I looked out into the water and saw two more women, also friends of the missing man. They were both crying in grief and terror at what had just happened. One laid on top of the raft, the other held onto the side.

Then I did something stupid: I swam out with another person, out to the raft, and helped to pull the women back to shore. Circumstance had mercy on me, and we got to the raft without incident, though I could have been pulled under by a rip tide, had there been one. I grabbed the arm of the woman floating on the other side of the raft. I heard her sob that she wanted to go with her friend, she couldn’t live without him. I told her to hang on, and I made sure to hold onto her as I kicked steadily but not too fast. Finally, we stood up at the shelf and the women reunited with each other on the shore.

As I left, the Death card flashed in my memory. I walked off by myself, babbling to no one in particular, “Sometimes you pull a card and it’s symbolic, and sometimes it’s literal, and how can anyone tell the difference? What’s even the point of getting an omen if you don’t know what it means?” I collected my composure and my things and left the beach with my friend as the rescuers arrived to recover the man’s body.

Since then I’ve asked myself time and again, what’s the point in knowing the energy of what is to come, if the details don’t always get fleshed out, and if we can’t stop what’s happening? What if I had stayed with that group, and talked to the man, instead of going off to my own thing? Could I have grabbed him before he went under? Would I have drowned myself, trying?

This was probably the weirdest synchronicity between spooky cards and shocking events that I have ever experienced. Even with the Death card appearing in a reading for the short term future a few days prior, I was still wholly unprepared for how it would play out. I do believe that pulling the card brought me to readiness and watchfulness for something big, though. I didn’t think twice about quitting the Tarot, just like I didn’t think twice about jumping in the river to meet those women. Maybe my presence then and there made no difference, and maybe it did. I feel confident enough in the operational principles of this reality to know that the Death card was not causative in any way of what I witnessed. The man apparently made his own decision to venture into muddy water of unclear depth without knowing how to swim, and without a life jacket. My heart still aches for the loss experienced by the people who love him and who must still miss him, every day. 

Read the news report here.


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