Derek Simmons was enjoying a beautiful day at the beach with his family when he noticed something odd. A group of people near the pier were pointing at something in the water. He and his wife thought it was just another shark, but they walked toward the commotion anyway. As it turned out, it wasn’t a shark. It was something much more dangerous.
Nine people were caught in a riptide. That group included a family of six with two small boys and a grandmother, as well as three would-be rescuers who got pulled in while trying to help. They were trying to swim to safety but the current was too strong and they were being pulled away.
The lifeguards had already finished work, so it was up to Derek. He had to think fast. The nine were getting tired and would soon be lost at sea and possibly drowned. He gathered as many people as he could on the beach and got them to hold hands in a line. Soon, he had a human chain of more than 80 people. It reached about 100 yards from the beach into the ocean.
Derek and his wife, Jessica, went out beyond the chain on their body boards and began towing the exhausted swimmers to people in the chain. The 67-year-old grandmother had a heart attack in the water and appeared to have died by the time they got to her, but the human chain pulled her back to shore too.
After about an hour, all nine were passed back along the chain to safety. Even the grandmother survived, saying that she had a vision of her late husband and it wasn’t her time yet. Complete strangers were on the beach hugging and high-fiving. It was a beautiful end to a stressful day at the beach.
Some famous philosophers have said that humans are selfish by nature. They believed that even when a person does something that appears to be selfless, there is always an ulterior motive. But according to recent psychology experiments, when making snap decisions, people’s first instincts are to be cooperative and helpful, not selfish. Only when we have time to think and deliberate, do we become selfish.
Derek Simmons and the 80 rescuers he gathered certainly had little time to think when they put their lives at risk to save the lives of strangers. Derek later said, “It was a wave of humanity that brings some things back into focus, that maybe we haven’t lost all hope in this world.”