Eyewitness of North Pond drowning reflects on suicide and healing (column)
August 5, 2016
July's full moon was slowly slipping between Buffalo Mountain and Red Peak in the pre-dawn hours this past Wednesday. Snapping the new red telephoto gadget onto my iPhone, I went to the banks of North Pond in Silverthorne to try to capture this magical moment. Movement and a loud thrumming startled me. A hummingbird flew inches from my face, assessing whether the red ring of the lens offered a meal.
The previous evening Scot A. McChesney's body had been recovered from North Pond after an exhaustive, pain-staking, and, at times, frustrating search by Summit County Search & Rescue. A search had commenced days earlier, moments after Scot took his life just before 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Part of the attraction of living on the banks of North Pond is seeing so many different uses of the pond. Fly fishermen, kayakers, swimmers, paddleboarders all frequently enjoy the pond in the summer and fall seasons. Skaters, ice fishermen and hockey players make use of the pond once it fully freezes. Moose, deer, fox and waterfowl frequent its shores and shallows. Osprey hunt for trout daily to feed themselves and their young.
Lying on his board with a backpack, propelling himself with slow, methodical butterfly strokes, Scot caught my attention as he glided past my patio hot tub, where I sat basking in the water and the view of the beautiful Gore Range.
Perhaps it was that he was laying on his board, perhaps because of his backpack, perhaps because though he passed within 15 yards or so he never looked up or made eye contact, my gaze settled on him. At the time, I did not know who I was looking at, thinking the paddler to be a younger female. As he slowly made his way to the south end, far from anyone else on the pond, Scot ended his life by casually, almost gently, slipping off his board with barely a splash.
Thinking this to be accidental, when I did not see him surface, did not see even the slightest disturbance in the water, I yelled to my daughter to call 911, yelled to others on the pond to help and rushed to save Scot. I knew that there would only be a few brief moments if he were to live. Neither I, nor all those who joined the search, could find Scot in the murky, silty water.
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Some have questioned Scot's manner of suicide, or the suicide itself, in a pond frequented by children and by a method that resulted in an enormous, time-consuming and stressful search. Some have said they will never view the pond in the same way they had before Scot's death. Some have commented that suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness.
I choose to think and feel differently. When I gave up my rescue effort and sat on the shore, giving my police report, I was distraught. I felt that despite responding quickly, and giving my all, I had failed to save a life. When I overheard a comment that a car had been found with a note taped to the window, I immediately felt a burden lifted.
As I reflect on this, I am a bit ashamed. Perhaps shame is too strong a word, but whatever the reason that Scott took his life, I know it is not for me to cast judgment, much less to blame. He was no less deserving of rescue than if his death were accidental.
Mental illness, addiction and other behavioral maladies are unique in that there is often a tendency to assign blame to the individual suffering from the disease. We seem to have difficulty accepting that some illnesses and conditions affect one's ability to be rational and sane. We would never question someone's inability to breathe normally if they were afflicted with a lung disorder, or difficulty in walking if they were stricken with paralysis. All who are ill or suffering deserve compassion.
In every moment of every day there is unspeakable horror and unfathomable suffering, but in every moment of every day there is also new life, kindness, compassion and ordinary people making good choices — people choosing love over hate, healing over injury, selflessness over selfishness. It truly is our choice of where to place our consciousness, being present to others when they are in need, but also moving toward light, beauty and serenity.
My family and I would like to thank several individuals who have gone above and beyond to keep us informed, comfort us and extend kindness and caring. In addition to being on the scene, and giving untold hours to investigating this tragedy, Sergeant Misty Higby of the Silverthorne Police Department has been a great source of comfort and understanding to me and my family. She has generously taken the time to visit us, check on our well being and consoled us. Mark Watson of Summit County Search & Rescue similarly blended the professionalism of doing his job with kindness, patience and caring. We have been amazed at the efforts of Misty, Mark and many, many others, including Tara Galvin with the Summit County Coroner's Office.
For such a small community, my family and I are overwhelmed by the extent, depth, skill and empathy of the many, many public servants as well as private volunteers, all of whom so quickly and selflessly responded. We have a new appreciation for the many caring individuals, in and out of uniform, who keep us safe and so willingly will do whatever it takes to respond to emergencies and their aftermaths. Thank you to all who were there.
Upon daybreak Wednesday, with the water impossibly still, perfectly reflecting the majesty of Buffalo Mountain, I eased my paddleboard into North Pond to honor Scot. The pond, as always at this time of year, was teeming with life: A mother mallard guiding her brood of seven tiny ducklings into the reeds near where Scot died; the trout darting ahead of my paddle stroke; the chattering of blackbirds; the swooping of swallows busy chasing insects; the buzzing of purple dragonflies and the silvery shimmering of schools of minnows — all delighting my senses. Perhaps for Scot, this beautiful, serene pond was his ideal place for exiting his life on Earth.
I may never know why he chose North Pond and why our lives, ever so briefly, intersected. Scot is now inextricably woven into the fabric of me and my family's lives, as are all who responded with such purpose, skill, persistence and compassion. So, too, is the beauty and serenity of North Pond.
If God, as I believe, is in everything. And if each of us is of God, North Pond has effortlessly healed whatever suffering, despair or illness overcame Scot. May his soul be at peace and be one with God.
Guy Smallwood lives in Silverthorne on the banks of North Pond.
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