His finger was fissured from years of hard work as he pointed it toward me, a flicker of memory dawning.

“You…” he began a kind of wagging at me and I smiled back. “I remember you! It was my first week at Aberdeen Coastguard. We rescued you. I’m Gramps. At least that’s what they all call me.”

Gramps leaned forward and shook my hand.

I was sheltering from the smirr of late July rain beneath the bulging yellow cockpit of a Sea King helicopter at Morayvia, an aerospace experience near the Royal Air Force base in northeast Scotland. Above me sat my teenage nephews, playing at pilot and co-pilot. Before me stood the man who in one decision thirty years previously, had probably saved my life.  

In 1993, at the foot of sea cliffs just south of Aberdeen, my body lay crumpled after a fall. What should have been an innocuous day rock-climbing had gone awry, transformed into a rescue dilemma for my friends and the emergency services. Gramps told me the story of how he had made the call to wait for the helicopter that was on its way from RAF Lossiemouth instead of hauling me out by lifeboat. He knew there was a newly adapted stretcher on board that would reduce the chance of further damage to my spinal cord. Retrieval of my body via the big yellow bird meant a whole lot less moving and handling and exponentially less risk to my spine. I had an unstable neck fracture and a body teetering on the brink. His decision all those years ago had at least saved my arms from paralysis, and most probably my life.

“Thank you” I held his craggy hand longer than was usual. I felt such gratitude to this fellow human. “Thank you for giving me this life”. It was Gramps’ first day volunteering at Morayvia. He introduced me to the man beside him, Bob, another volunteer who was behind the new style stretcher that had lifted me out of the precarious sea-cliff scene.  

“Thank you too” I shook Bob’s hand also, tingling with a sense of connection and appreciation for these two men who had committed their lives to service.

It was thirty and a third years after becoming paralysed, and in the smirr of that benign afternoon, I sat in deep appreciation.

In gratitude.

In that incident all those years ago, I was the unconscious and unaware recipient of so much help. Without it I would have been unable to experience this precious gift of life.

When we are vulnerable, when things seem a little desperate, when we are in need, that is when we must learn to accept. Being paralysed has taught me to accept help in bucket loads. There is so much that I cannot do alone, so acceptance and trust have become woven into my fabric and way of life.

The memory of that day was fossilised deep in a fissure of Gramp’s eighty-year old mind, reactivated by our meeting. Our serendipitous encounter.

Serendipity literally means ‘finding something good without looking for it’. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of becoming paralysed is the practice of that. A constantly challenging environment is best navigated with a peaceful inner landscape, with a curious and optimistic mind. Where we allow our mind and energy to go impacts our reality. The night before I was paralysed I spoke the words “I”d rather be dead than paralysed. I can’t imagine anything worse”. Did I attract it in? Who knows, though the opposite of serendipity might be called misfortune.

We are capable of way more than we can imagine. Our mind is powerful beyond belief. We can attract what we fear most, just as we can attract serendipitous events.

When we swim along in the flow of life, whether the sunshine is on our face or we feel a little swamped, it can be easy to forget the emotional portals available to us. Magical gateways into a different, better experience. Gratitude is one of them. The chance to feel grateful is available to us in any moment, from the smallest minutiae to the greatest events. It offers a fast-track into feeling intensely alive.

Thanks Gramps and Bob. In gratitude of you then and now.  

And thanks to the Press & Journal for managing to pick up on our serendipity too,