Stuck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene pleaded with God for a miracle. The Nigerian cook was able to survive by breathing a gradually decreasing supply of oxygen in an air pocket on the sunken tugboat. A video of Okene’s rescue in May was posted last week. As the temperature went below freezing, Harrison recited the psalm, a prayer for deliverance: “Oh God, by Your name save me… God sustains my life.”
The other 11 seamen on the Jascon 4 died and divers had been sent to look for the bodies. Tony Walker, the project manager for the Dutch Company DCN Diving, said that the divers were called to the scene because they were working on a neighboring oil field 75 miles away. They had already brought up four bodies, and then a hand appeared on the TV screen that Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat. The diver was shocked when he went to grab the hand and it grabbed his hand back.
“It was frightening for everybody,” Walker said. “For the guy that was trapped because he didn’t know what was happening. It was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies, and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen.” On the video there is an audible gasp of shock when the diver realizes that Okene is alive, and the rescuer shouts: “There is a survivor!” Okene could not have lasted much longer with the dwindling amount of oxygen in the air pocket.
At the beginning of the ordeal, when Okene locked himself into a cabin in the sunken ship that felt safe, he began to play back a mental tape of his whole life. His mother, his friends, his wife, the wonderful moments that he had shared with his loved ones. When he heard the sound of sharks biting at something big right outside the walls of the boat, he began fervently praying.
“I started calling on the name of God, I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54-92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed.” He survived off of just one bottle of Coke for three days. The diver who rescued him warmed him up with hot water, attached him to an oxygen mask and then put him inside of a decompression chamber before bringing him to the surface.
We shake our heads in wonder. How is it possible for a person to survive for so many hours at the bottom of the ocean with just a small pocket of air and a bottle of coke?
Last week, as the video went viral, the 911 recordings from last December’s Sandy Hook School shooting were released to the public. For months, the parents, the family members and the police were protesting the release of the recordings in order to prevent re-traumatizing the town. But what emerges in the recordings is the miraculous calm exhibited by the teachers and by the emergency staff as they work together to keep the rest of the children safe. One particular caller is heard several times on the recordings. He was the acting head custodian that morning, and he stayed on the phone in the hallway of the school throughout the shooting, trying to communicate with the police and calm down the staff at the same time. He tells the emergency dispatcher to hold on while he proceeds to lock all of the remaining classroom doors and then remains in the corridor, valiantly trying to keep the 911 dispatcher updated on what is occurring around him.
I drove by Sandy Hook and what struck me immediately when gazing at this beautiful, quaint New England town is the light of unity that lines every street in the wake of last year’s tragedy. The horrific loss of life has not extinguished the spirit of Newtown. As the first anniversary of the shooting arrived, the menorahs were still lit. The town square was wrapped in lights. The outpouring of support for the families of the victims was still palpable in the air.
There is a special kind of faith one needs at the bottom of the ocean. There is a special kind of prayer reserved for our darkest, most painful moments. And there is a special kind of hope when one hand reaches out for another, and it grasps it back. As the light of Hanukkah fades, now is the time to work on bringing that glow into the rest of our year. It is the time to remind ourselves that every breath that we take is a miracle. No matter how cold and dark and impossible the situation appears, the ray of light at the beginning of each day is a sign that we can emerge from the depths, hold onto each other and live again.