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A few days after graduating from varsity I went fishing with my dad. At noon he clambered onto a big midstream boulder and waved me over for lunch. As I waded towards him, I
stumbled and drove my kneecap into a submerged rock.
My legs were a bit wooden from standing in the river all day, and my knee began to fill with a sneaky, underwater pain. I climbed onto the rock, put down my rod, watched my father put a handful of biltong into his mouth and blacked out. At some point I was jerked back into this world. My father’s grip seized my waders and yanked me out of the river.
I coughed and water came out my nose. My cap and fishing rod were gone. My knee ached. My shirt was soaked. Apparently, I had tipped backwards off the rock.
Dad said, “I thought you were cooling off your head.”
I said, “I think you just saved my life.”
Hours later, in a restaurant that evening, I thought: everything you think you’re building, five thousand days, five million memories, can get wiped out in a second? While you’re crossing a pretty stream on a sunny day to eat biltong with your dad?
People die for ideas and countries and each other. I would have died for what? A few little fish. A sandwich. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and thought: you aren’t much. That one moment, 17 years ago, still sends ripples into my hours. Your life is a rag, those ripples say, a shadow. Sometimes you feel the power of your existence flare in you – through you – with so much intensity your knees buckle. And yet a single misstep, some bad luck, a convergence of instants and it’s gone. You aren’t much.
And yet you are everything.
– Anthony Doerr wrote Memory Wall (R129, Kalahari)