People form a human chain to help pull a diver in distress from the water near Nubble Light in York. Photo courtesy of Lois R. Griswold

Lois Griswold did us all a big favor this week. With one click of her iPhone camera, she reminded us that even in this summer of pandemic pandemonium, good things still happen.

Late Monday morning, Lois, 77, was walking along Short Sands Beach in York when she noticed commotion along the rocks leading out to Nubble Light.

Pausing to see what was going on, she spotted a man in scuba gear in the water some distance from the rocks, his arm raised in a sign of distress. Then she saw another man dive in and quickly swim out to the struggling diver, where he grabbed hold of the man’s air tank with one arm and, with the other, towed him back toward shore.

And as that drama unfolded, another one began. Upwards of 10 other men came running, forming a human chain to help both the diver and his rescuer up across the slippery rocks and to safety.

In that fleeting moment, her iPhone firmly in hand, Lois aimed as best she could and snapped the photo. It’s since gone viral, a tableau of heroism in a time when we need all the heroes we can get.

“I had no idea,” Lois said in an interview Tuesday when asked if she immediately grasped the power of the image. “I just made it as close-up as possible.”

The brave rescuer, who wanted at first to remain anonymous, has since been identified as Ryan Coite, a foreman with York’s parks and recreation department who was conducting a routine check of Nubble Light when he saw the diver in obvious trouble and, without hesitation, jumped into the swirling currents.

The diver, a 57-year-old man who emerged exhausted but otherwise unscathed, has not been identified.

Nor do we know the names of the others who came running to help. Still, what they did is infinitely more important than who they are.

We live in a time when human contact is largely verboten. As the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread like wildfire across the nation and the world, we keep our distance. We no longer shake hands, let alone hug even our closest relatives and friends. We don masks when we go out – at least those of us determined to neither contract nor spread the virus – and cringe when a pre-pandemic TV ad comes on showing people standing too darned close to one another.

Then a life-or-death moment arises and, in an instant, a line is formed, hands clasp other hands and, as if choreographed, many become one. And as the camera clicks, we’re reminded that humanity is in fact a chain, that the COVID-19 crisis cannot quell our instinct to join together, to reach out in the face of danger, to help one another in moments of peril.

And who better to snap that photo than the woman who signs her many Facebook posts “Love, Lois.”

She first set foot on this idyllic stretch of Maine’s coast 72 years ago when her parents enrolled her in the York Beach Bible Conference. She’s come every summer since – for years from her home in Boston and, since 2008, from just outside Columbus, Ohio, where she and her husband, Gary, moved to be closer to family.

Wherever she goes, Lois is a human connector.

Last summer a close friend from New York died just before Lois and Gary were to come to Maine for their annual getaway to the cottage in the shadow of Nubble Light. Bereaved by her loss, Lois took to two local Facebook groups – York Beach Maine and Friends of York Beach Maine – and started a contest aimed at making connections.

It went like this: She would log on each morning to announce where exactly she would be in her beach chair at Short Sands crocheting an afghan blanket – she’s made well over 200 and gives them away as fast as she can churn them out. “If you are the FIRST to find me,” she posted, “I will buy you a FREE ice cream cone at Surfside. Love, Lois.”

“Only three people wanted an ice cream cone,” she recalled. “Everyone just wanted to meet me and have their picture taken with me. When I got home, 3,000 people wrote and said they want to meet me this year.”

So, Lois is at it again this summer – only now she describes what hat or shoes she’s wearing or, in a nod to theses surreal times, the color of her mask. And instead of the ice cream cones, she’s making a Christmas stocking for the first person to recognize her and say hello each day – she’s made 10 so far, each embroidered with the recipient’s name.

Well connected? Before she moved to Ohio, Lois spent 12 years as the “unofficial team mother” of the Boston Red Sox. The job description: Show up at the players’ entrance to Fenway Park well before game time and hand out fresh-baked cookies as the players drive through the gate.

“The only year I counted was 2004, and I baked over 5,000 cookies,” Lois said. “They’d all get out and give me a hug. They called me ‘Mom.’”

How fitting, then, that when tragedy was averted at Shorts Sands Beach by strangers who literally joined hands to save a drowning man, Lois was there to capture it in a single, unforgettable photo of selflessness in action.

The freeze frame illustrates not only our collective strength in numbers, but also how, even on a picture-perfect summer day, danger sometimes lurks. That vulnerability was underscored on Tuesday when another man drowned while diving off the same beach.

Shortly after snapping the photo, Lois emailed it a TV reporter who did a story last summer on her “Love, Lois” campaign. It’s since appeared on two TV stations and in several newspapers, stopping people in their tracks all over Maine.

She also posted it on the local Facebook page, touching off scores of replies from her York Beach neighbors. Virtually all extolled the innate goodness of ordinary people who, in the blink of an eye, find themselves in an extraordinary situation.

Said one respondent, “The beauty of humanity exists! Always has, always will.”


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