How To Know If You Did The Right Thing

How To Know If You Did The Right Thing

I saved a boy from drowning once.  Well, I helped.  And then I regretted it. 

I was seven, maybe eight.  It was a campground pool, and it was my cousin’s birthday. The memory is a weird one, one of those trauma-seared memories, with certain parts vivid, like a movie replaying in my mind, and other parts missing entirely.

I remember jumping into the pool, I remember my older cousin – the one with the birthday – jumping in too, I remember swimming toward the center of the pool to meet him, I remember giggling, I remember him asking if I’d seen his friend Jared* because he’d come out of the locker room before him, I remember a strange feeling in my stomach, I remember us looking at each other and then, together, looking down.

I remember seeing Jared kind of standing at the bottom of the pool, lifeless.  He had on goggles, which later seemed so strange – he knew we were going swimming, he brought trunks and goggles, he left the locker room early and jumped into the deep end of the pool.  He did these things knowing he couldn’t swim.  

My cousin and I dove down immediately, grabbing his arms and pulling.  I was a strong swimmer, but Jared was a few years older, a lot bigger, and total dead weight.  I came up for air once, then dove back down to help my cousin bring him up.  

I don’t remember yelling for help, but one of us must have.  And I don’t remember where she came from – if she was there the whole time, or if she came in response to our screams – but there was a nurse.

I remember CPR and puking and an ambulance and the ICU and then a boy who lived. And I remember I helped.  

I was proud of the moment.  I retold the story many times over two and a half decades.  I saved a life, helped anyway.  I was just a little kid, but I got to be a part of a big thing.  I did a good thing, I thought.  I did the right thing, I thought.


Last year I found out Jared is in jail and won’t ever get out.  He grew up to do something so heinous I won’t describe it here. 

Did I still do a good thing?  Did I still do the right thing?

I know the answer to this.  It’s the same as when I reflect on my time in Iraq, and it’s the same as my response when naysayers ask what that homeless guy is going to do with my money.

I don’t know. 

I don’t know the end result of every action I take.  I don’t know if the good thing I do today will result in a bad thing ten years from now, and I don’t know if that bad thing will somehow turn into some amazing and miraculous thing 100 years from now.  

I don’t know. But I know the one who does.  

It is not my job to label things as “good” or “right,” and thank God because I have no idea. My job is to follow closely, to abide, to learn His voice, and to listen like my legacy depends on it.  My life is not about amassing a collection of “good” and “right” things to earn salvation – it is simply about following the one who already earned it for me.