Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I remember being at a yoga session and having a Guru say "Life Begins with the first breath in and ends with the last breath out." Simple statement and yet in its own way it led me to understand that, watching my breath seems to ground me. I read in a yoga book about meditation that "Watch your breath and see your life change." Again a simple statement but I can remember once when I was thankful to remember both the statements.

I was working in Halifax on a little TV series called, "Local Heroes". It was about people who were for the most part unsung except for their 15 minutes of local newspaper fame. Some were quite heroic and others just seemed to happen by chance and really be about being someplace at the right moment. Well we were at the end of a small river leading into the Atlantic ocean and the story involved a daughter in her twenties out for a row with her father when the boat capsized. A man on the beach swam out and saved them. Easy to see in one's mind but not so easy to capture in the fall of the year in the Atlantic ocean with tides to deal with and on top of that weather that could be good or just awful. A low budget was also a great impeding factor at times. So we got the two zodiacs (inflated rubber boats) for filming, and found a river that ran into the ocean with a sand beach that went out about 150 feet before it was over your head. Good to do most of the work in shallow water and not drown anyone. Drowning has a lot to do with the last breath out.
What happened in the story was that when the row boat capsized the daughter and her father clasped hands over the keel and yelled and yelled. The man heard them from shore and swam out. We put the upside down boat across a 14 foot zodiac and towed it with our bigger zodiac. Video cables were run from the bigger zodiac to the smaller one where the camera was locked down. The trick was to keep the locked camera with the two people hanging on to the keel in the foreground and the hero swimming toward them in the background. Sounds easy but with the outbound current from the river and the ocean current moving inward it was dicey. I was wearing a dry suit as I had been standing in the water where it was shallow. It was not done up and sealed. We rolled camera and I could see we would not get the shot, the man was not in the right alignment. This meant steering the camera boat a little this way or that to keep him in frame. I knew if we stopped and lined it up again the whole resetting would take 15 minutes or more so I jumped off the stern of the larger boat and got between the two zodiacs. Perhaps a dumb move but I had quickly sensed I could not be hurt by the rubber sides of these two craft squeezing me and I knew exactly what I had to do to keep the boat facing the right way. Perhaps not the job of a 1st Assistant Director which is what I was at the time and still am. But with a tight schedule and no money for overtime, every second saved to spend wisely later is worth it. That is the job to make the seconds count. Tough job.
So I jumped in and grabbed the ropes joining the crafts and delicately steered the smaller zodiac to keep the people in the shot. We got the shot in one take which was great. We broke off the cables and one cable they gave to me to swim the few feet to the large Zodiac that held a dozen people and was very fast and powerful with its engines and propeller well under the keel. It slowly started to pull away and remembering the fun of being towed by a rope in the water I lay on my back about 30 feet behind the craft and enjoyed the trip. In a sense it was a small reward for getting the shot and I knew I had a few minutes to kill before everyone was on shore and we could set up the next shot. I knew the water was shallow and I could stand whenever I let go of the rope so I just was having fun. The zodiac driver was not aware I was a freeloader enjoying the fun of it all. I let go and sank not to my shoulders as I expected but down, down, down about 8 feet. I jumped up off the bottom and popped to the surface and I could not kick with my feet in the dry suit all filled now with water. I was worried and I realized I did not know how to signal that I was in distress. I sank again and this time when I came up I raised one arm which seemed a logical sort of signal for attention. Nothing. I raised both arms nothing. I sank and jumped up once more now panicking that I was going to drown. I for some reason remembered that I should watch my breath and try to get under control. I do not know exactly why this came to mind but it relates directly to those two statements at the start of this story . Well when I watched my breath and I was immediately reminded of laboratory mice used for feeding boa constrictors hyperventilating when they were being squeezed. I was terrified that I would not get my breathing slow enough to really get any air. I was beside myself with fear and panic. There is no other feeling so profoundly debilitating. My arms started to paddle frantically underwater as they did when I was probably 5 or 6 when I was learning how to float on my back and this tiny action kept my head a bit above water and I slowly my breathing slowed down and I regained some control of things. I steered myself toward shore and people came and helped me out. They turned me upside down in my dry suit and I must have had 20 gallons of water in it which made me realize that the joy ride on my back had filled the dry suit with water from the neck down. Everyone laughed as I was deluged with water. I was happy to be alive. It was a lesson and I think the only time I have come close to death and had time to think about it over a minute or so. Fear led me to tense actions and in the end panic. I have experienced accidents but they happen in a trice and you either make the right move or bite the bullet. I have so far made the right moves and each motorcycle and bicycle accident I can remember in minute detail although none took more than 10 or 15 seconds to materialize and come to a conclusion. Each is a miracle of luck for other than a couple of cracked ribs I have never been hurt. Each seemed to go on a long time with many decisions being made mid air or in the moments leading up to the actual contact of the crash. It is amazing how fast the mind really is and how it remembers vividly what takes place in milliseconds. I do not think computers are faster. They just can keep the pace up for a longer time in a narrow simple task.

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