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The story “The Lifeguard” shows perfectly just how a single instant can change someone’s whole life. From the start when Billy drowned because his father needed to take a phone call to Josh when ruined his date with Peggy by asking about said drowning, every event in the story takes place in a single moment and imitates how fast real life can happen. Even Josh’s perception of being a lifeguard changed in an instant after Becky almost choked and died because of a grape on his watch even after he had given four years of his life doing it. He’s heard the stories, but since his experience consisted of mainly watching after people and setting up umbrellas, the harsh reality that people can die on his watch shook him harder than he was ready for. If it wasn’t for that, I’m sure he would’ve stayed that way and I’m sure his perception of Ms. Lovenheim would’ve remained the same as well.

If I had to choose an underlying theme of the story, it would be that comfort creates complacency and complacency creates mistakes. Billy died because his father was comfortable enough to leave him alone unsupervised at the edge of the water and he was swept under. Josh asked about Billy on his date because he felt comfortable enough to do so and thus caused it to end on a terrible note. He also almost let Becky die because he didn’t know what to do when she was choking, and the situation arose almost immediately after he allowed himself to get distracted by Cindy. That’s also an example of correlation not causation, but he was still overly frazzled when it did happen and he wasn’t prepared for it.

“The Lifeguard” is a pretty big wake up call to how easily life can shift entirely in response to one mistake. Injury, death, and ruined reputations are three main topics that come along with the mistakes made in the story, but it does prove that life happens too fast to let one mistake gain the potential to cause something bad to happen. In the end, Josh is left a new man with a different outlook on life and how fragile it is.

“Years have passed since that day on Pirate’s Point, and I am old now, perhaps as old as Mrs. Lovenheim was then, and I’ve never seen the water or the umbrellas of summer the same way again.” pg. 431

It only takes one event to change the world.

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