Allan Rivers had always dreamed of visiting Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Several of his friends had been there and raved about the wonderful hotels, lavish dining, and excellent water activities. Most of all, Allan wanted to try his hand at parasailing, and the main resort specialized in that.
Arrangements were made, and Allan and his wife flew in for a week of relaxation and fun. Allan made sure to register for parasailing at the hotel concierge desk, while his wife signed up for an afternoon of spa treatment.
The following morning, Allan reported to the pier at the edge of the bay, where several motorboats were gearing up for their day of parasailing. Allan met his crew and was provided a few minutes of instructions, including safety maneuvers.
While he was being harnessed in for his adventure, at the adjacent boat a middle-age man was also being readied for his flight. Both men were strapped in with leather cords over their shoulders, under and around their groins, and then buckled securely around the waist. The parachute rested peacefully behind them. When the motorboat accelerated away from shore, the parachute was expected to catch the wind and inflate, resulting in a quick ascent.
As the preparations were underway, Allan yelled over to the other guy, “Are you ready?”
The other guy, a Christian minister named Charles Picksworth, answered excitedly, “I sure am! This is going to be great!” Allan noticed a large cross dangling from the man’s neck.
The boat crews requested a thumbs-up sign from each man, indicating their readiness to go skyward. The men gave the required signal, and both motorboats revved their engines, pulling the men forward. The parachutes deployed as expected, and up the men went.
The boats both headed towards the middle of the bay at slightly outward trajectories in order to separate the men and to ensure that the lines did not become entangled.
As the altitude increased, Allan noticed that the wind had picked up quite a bit. As they climbed higher, the wind increased in force, becoming somewhat uncomfortable.
The men reached their prescribed altitude of approximately 400 feet. At the same time, the wind became much more forceful, the men apparently entering an unexpected band of unstable weather. The force of the wind was now hurricane strength, catching both parachutes in its fury.
As the stream of rushing air buffeted the men, the chutes began flapping ferociously, rapidly being pulled in the direction of the wind, tilting to a 45˚ angle. The boats, now hundreds of feet away on the bay, struggled valiantly to overcome the pulling force of the vortex, to no avail. The boats, with their feeble engines, began to go in reverse, being pulled backwards towards the shore, as the men were inexorably dragged back over dry land.
Allan looked down. He and the other man were now over a cluster of jagged rocks hundreds of feet below, while the parachutes flapped and twisted in the powerful gusts. He could hear the boats revving their engines to their capacities. But, for at least five minutes, the men dangled at 400 feet over a congregate of dark boulders below, completely at the mercy of the wind and fate.
Allan, a lifetime avowed atheist, could only think of his wife and children. “Please, God, help me. I don’t want to leave my family. Please, Lord, stop this wind. Let me get down on the ground safely. I promise, if you do, I will be your servant forever.”
Suddenly, the wind began to lessen, and the parachutes were able to right themselves. Little by little, the motor boats were able to pull their customers back over water, and soon both men were descending like two delicate feathers.
Upon landing, Allan took a knee and prayed. He thought, “God, I know I’ve been an atheist all my life, but you proved to me that you exist. I now devote myself to you. I will always believe in you.”
When he looked up, the other guy, Charles Picksworth, was standing just a few feet away, taking off his gear.
Allan stood up and said, “Excuse me, Charles, but I couldn’t help notice your large cross. I guess you’re religious, no?”
Charles responded, “Well, actually, I work as a Christian minister.”
Allan continued, “Can you believe what just happened to us? We came within a moment of death. I visualized myself plummeting onto those hideous black rocks.”
Charles agreed. “Yes, I have to admit, that’s the most frightened I’ve ever been in my entire life. I was really terrified. I kept thinking of a passage in the Bible, from Acts 2:2 - “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
Allan asked, “So, Charles, that means that the Bible and your belief in God comforted you. I have to admit, I’ve been an atheist all my life. But that horrible experience changed me. I prayed to God to save me, and He did! Just after I prayed, the wind let up and we were saved.”
Charles responded, “Well, Allan, I have to admit that I had a different reaction. I was thinking of my belief, and the passage in the Bible, and yet I was scared beyond description. I was so scared that I almost vomited. So how did my belief help me? It didn’t. I wasn’t comforted at all. And if God did exist, why would He allow such a frightening experience to occur in the first place? Besides, why would you reject the more likely possibility that the wind let up fortuitously at the same moment you were praying, but just by coincidence? After all, wind tends to gust and then let up.”
Allan responded, “What if it weren’t a coincidence? Isn’t it possible that it was God coming to our rescue?”
Charles countered, “Allan, I appreciate how you feel. Believe me, in the past I felt the same way. But for every event like this one, where you come out of it safe, relieved and believing, there are probably a hundred where the outcome was catastrophic and fatal. Those people never had the opportunity to reject their belief or even express their opinion, because it was too late for them. You never hear of that because those people perished.”
Allan inquired, “But what about that passage from Acts 2:2 that comforted you? Wasn’t that something important?”
Charles explained, “Allan, think about that passage. Although it has some reference to a rushing wind, the overall meaning has nothing to do with saving us from plummeting down onto the rocks. It feels superficially like it has meaning and is relevant, but it’s really not. It means nothing. When you really analyze all of this, it reveals itself to be truly meaningless.
Just as an example, my brother-in-law was a very religious man. A couple of years ago he lost control of his car on a patch of ice and went over the guard rail on a mountain road in Colorado. He and his car tumbled 500 feet down the side of the mountain to his death. I’m 100% sure he was praying his heart out and beseeching God all the way down. Yet, he died. His prayer meant nothing.
Here, take my cross. If you’re now a believer, it might help you. But just remember one more thing. You had your epiphany at the moment you were most scared, and therefore most irrational. Is that the way you want to establish your entire belief system? Initiating it based on irrationality and fear?
It looks like we both had epiphanies. But they pointed us in opposite directions.”
Allan thought carefully about what he had heard, and added, “Charles, I think you’re an amazing person. Your analysis of this event and your level of understanding are quite remarkable. Now I’m not sure what to believe. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. But with regard to food, would you and your wife like to join us for dinner tonight? We were going to try a great new restaurant.”
Charles replied, “Oh, Allan, I would really love to. Perhaps we can do it another evening. Tonight I’m directing a huge religious revival meeting at the stadium in town. We expect over 20,000 believers there! That’s a lot of moolah at $30 a ticket!”
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A good story and ouch, that ending. -:) A modern parable with a subtle dig at the questionable motives and practices of some of the self-proclaimed spiritual leaders of big-tent revivals and televangelism who have been exposed as charlatans , frauds and worse. Aptly depicted in films like Elmer Gantry and spoofs like Pray TV. The parasailing experience is nicely described....did it once, under ideal conditions, so without the sense of terror, but I can well imagine it. Well done. RG
Thanks, Richard. Parasailing is supposed to be peaceful and happy. Not this time, however.
No atheists in fox holes, no Christians in hospital :) I like the crossover here, and faced with looming mortality, both men are shocked into deeper introspection. We have here a single event, but two very different ways of looking at it. Which one is "correct"? That's subjective, isn't it? And then Allan's initial reaction is tempered by Charles's, so we have the same person with two perspectives on the same event. Does that mean the Buddhists are right? :) What happens isn't as relavant to us, as how we (choose to) perceive it. Lots to th...
This sped off in a direction I really wasn't expecting at all! I suppose if one is faced with such a terrifying predicament and then it passes, one might well think is the act of faith a coincidence or not. I love stories that wrestle with big questions and I enjoyed the dialogue between Allan and Charles after; it was also unexpected, how Charles is reflective and doesn't rush in a big gush to assign it all to Faith. Quietly interesting! Thansk for sharing.
Thank you, Rebecca.
Bruce - The title, I mean, wow - great hook - Laugh - like socialism to a capitalist, God's never wanted until you need a bailout! "Allan, a lifetime avowed atheist, could only think of his wife and children. “Please, God, help me. I don’t want to leave my family. Please, Lord, stop this wind. Let me get down on the ground safely. I promise, if you do, I will be your servant forever.” Shame on you, Allan! :) Strong story elements, plot, pacing, and mechanics. It's so nice to read content like yours, Bruce, where the story is both thou...
Hi, Russell, thanks so much for those great compliments!
Very good story about crisis of conscience and faith. -RS
I really liked this. :) just curious, did Allen stay a believer? I'm kind of hoping Charles went back to the Faith in the end... so far, I think your stories are the only Christian ones I've read here, :( but then again, I'm new, and I haven't read too many stories yet.
Hi, Lilah, The question of whether Allan stayed a believer and if Charles went back to the Faith is totally up to you as the reader. It's whatever you decide. What do you think? By the way, I'm not a Christian writer per se. I just thought it was a potentially interesting moment of psychological conflict.
I'm a Catholic, so I'd prefer Allen to stay a believer and Charles goes back to the Faith... But yes, I agree, this is an interesting moment of psychological conflict. :)
Nicely done with some thought-provoking points, Bruce!