THE SAFETY INSPECTOR
An angel! Or if not, an earthly paragon!
Jean Hannan Ondracek of Omaha was one of the first to answer
my request for angel stories. Here is a memory treasured ever
since it happened in 1958.
Jean had gone to a spa in the Ozarks with her sister Pat and
two girlfriends, young adults enjoying a weekend of sunning and
fun. Because Jean was the only one who knew how to swim, she
decided on Saturday morning to venture into the lake. Her
companions planned to stay on shore and work on their tans.
"There were other people in the area," Jean remembers, "but no
one very close to our spot on the shore. There were no lifeguards
patrolling this section of beach. As far as I knew, I was the
only swimmer in the lake."
The sun was warm, the water refreshing, and time-and
distance-passed more quickly than Jean had anticipated. At a
point much farther from shore than she had thought - and where
the lake was quite deep - Jean suddenly ran out of breath.
Shocked, she realized that she did not have enough energy to get
herself back to shore.
She called and waved frantically, but she could hardly make
out the tiny figures on the sand. And no one was looking her way.
As her fear increased, Jean realized that she could drown. "God,
help me! Help me!" she prayed aloud.
Suddenly she saw something bobbing in the water to her left.
A boat! It looked like an old abandoned canoe. If she could get
to it, perhaps she could row it back.... With the last of her
energy, Jean paddled over to the boat, but her heart sank when
she saw it. It was old, all right, without oars, and apparently
chained or anchored in some way to something at the bottom of the
lake. She could hold on for a moment, steady herself and catch
her breath, and that was surely a blessing. But the respite was
at best temporary.
How long could she hang on before Pat and the others noticed
her absence? Or would they simply assume she had come ashore on
another stretch of beach, and not put out any alarm for her? What
would happen when the sun's rays began to burn her, or she became
thirsty, or her arms, clutching to the slippery sides, became
tired? What if the old boat splintered under her weight? Jean
started to cry. "Help!" she called again. "Somebody, help!"
To her right, Jean suddenly heard splashing. She turned to
see a man a few years older than she gliding easily through the
waves, then treading water in front of her. "Hi," he greeted her
calmly, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be
passing by. "Having trouble?" "I - I'm out of breath and can't
get back," she answered, relief flooding her. "Where did you come
from? I didn't see anyone swimming - and I was certainly looking
The young man shrugged casually. "Oh, I'm a safety
inspector, and one of my jobs is saving lives in water, if I have
to. Do you think you can swim back?" "Oh, no." Jean shook her
head. "I'm exhausted."
"Come on, you can do it!" The young inspector smiled
confidently. "I'll swim beside you the whole way, until you teach
shore. If you get in any trouble, I'll hold you up.
"Well...... He seemed so confident. Maybe she could do it,
especially if he was there to catch her if she faltered.
Jean somehow summoned the energy to swim the entire distance. The
safety inspector didn't say much, but true to his word, he
matched his strokes to hers and watched her carefully. In a final
burst of power, Jean stumbled triumphantly onto the beach's sandy
shore. Pat and the others, still lounging on their blankets,
looked at her as she splashed through the shallows. "What
happened to you?" Pat called. "You've been gone such a long
"I almost drowned," Jean panted, dragging herself toward
them. "If it wasn't for the lifeguard......"
"What lifeguard?" Pat was looking past Jean.
"The guard, the safety inspector who swam back with me."
Jean turned around to point to him.
But there was no young man on the shore, no one swimming
away in the lake, no one walking on the shoreline in either
direction. Nor had Jean's friends seen anyone accompanying her.
Jean never saw her rescuer again, but she did discover that the
resort didn't have any lifeguards or "safety inspectors" on the
payroll. Perhaps he was a guard of a different kind.
Yes, a guard on duty sent by heaven - Keith Hunt