This summer, when I was swimming, just past the breakers at the South Jersey shore, a couple of kids, maybe 12 or 13, got near me. I could tell they had never been in the ocean before because their minds were just blown. They were giddy and half terrified, their eyes just starting out of their heads. The tide was going out a bit. One of the kids was kicking on boogie board, laughing and smiling. When he floated by me, in the direction of the open sea, I saw his situation was a split second from panic. His smile was tight, and I could tell his mind was in utter turmoil.
The lifeguard started blowing his whistle. I reached out and gave the kid my hand, pulled him back to shallower water, until he could stand. Told him and the other kid (who just had to be his brother) that they should not go above their waist. That was that. The lifeguard gave me a quick thanks when I came out.
When I pulled him in, he had just passed to the point where he needed rescue. He had just gotten into a position from which he could not recover without help. Now, the kid was on a boogie board, and the lifeguard I'm sure was about to come out for him, so it would be a huge misstatement for me to say I saved this kid. Heck, if I wasn't there, overwhelming odds are, he ends up just fine.
So what I did there wasn't extraordinary, and in fact was extraordinarily easy -- I just reached out my arm and pulled him in -- but if that's the greatest feat of my life, it is enough. Even if all I really did was save the kid from real panic in the water.