It was the day after Thanksgiving. The Stigler family of Memphis was taking a holiday break at Fall Creek Falls State Park. Susan Stigler was standing on the observation deck overlooking the falls, holding a video camera. She didn't want to miss a moment.
Her husband and two teenage sons were about to jump off a cliff. Susan wasn't worried. They'd done it before. They weren't really jumping. They were rappelling down the side using special ropes and devices.
Her eldest son, Jon, 17, went first. She watched him through the viewfinder as he slid smoothly down the rope 220 feet from the top of the cliff to the rocky floor below.
Jared, 15, was next. She kept the camera on him and she waited for him to leap. He seemed to be hung up for a second or two. Then he jumped and began to slide down the rope. It seemed to Susan that he was going awfully fast. It looked like he was dropping, not sliding 22 stories. She kept waiting for him to slow down. He never did. Jared knew he was dropping too fast. He reached behind him to grab the rope and slow his descent. But he wasn't wearing the right gloves. The rope burned his hand. Instinctively, he let go.
Then he hit the ground. He bounced and flipped over. Susan gasped. Jared wasn't moving. She thought he was gone. She thought she had just filmed his death. "Thank you, Lord, for these past 15 years with Jared," she said to herself. Then he moved.
The Stiglers weren't the only family at the falls that day. Connie Walker of Murfreesboro, Tenn., was there with her family and her sister's. They had been sitting at the bottom of the falls enjoying the view. But it was cold, and the adults were ready to go back up to the inn. The kids wanted to stay. Some people were getting ready to slide down the side of the cliff next to the falls. They stayed and watched one.
"Just one more," Connie's son said.
"One more," said Connie, who was past ready to go. She still wasn't feeling well, physically or otherwise. The car wreck she'd had months before had shaken the kids but had nearly broken her. She'd hurt her neck and back. She was having trouble with the physical aspects of her job. Her doctors kept telling her she was going to have to quit.
The jumper seemed to have trouble getting started. Then he dropped like a stone, hit the ground, bounced and flipped. Connie and her family watched in silence and in horror as the stranger lay motionless on rocks below the falls.
"Mom!" Connie's little boy yelled. "Do something!"
Susan saw Jared move. Then she saw other people moving toward him. Glenn, Jared's dad, was rappelling down a rope from the top of the cliff. A friend who had been holding Jared's rope from the bottom was still holding on, trying to keep Jared from moving. A few other people Susan didn't know were slowly making their way around the falls, over slippery rocks, to the spot where Jared lay.
"Please, Lord," Susan said, helplessly high above the scene, "please send someone who knows what to do."
Connie and her sister knew what to do. They were nurses. When they got to Jared, they expected to find a pile of bones and organs. Instead, they found a boy who somehow was alive and in one piece.
Jared was bleeding from his mouth and nose, but not too badly. He was in much pain, but awake and relatively alert. His feet and ankles were twisted and swelling, but he didn't seem to have any broken bones. Still, there was no telling what sort of internal damage he had. He fell 22 stories onto rocks. He was lying at the bottom of a remote canyon. And the two nurses at Jared's feet had no medical equipment or supplies. They worked with Jared's father to keep Jared still, warm, and awake. They made splints for his ankles with their hands and kept his legs elevated with their arms for more than an hour.
While they held Jared in place, someone else held them in place on the slippery, sloping rocks. Connie kept checking Jared's pupils and pulse. Every time his heart would race or crawl, she would pray. "God, you can't let this happen to this boy," she'd say.
Emergency crews finally arrived and took Jared to the hospital. But surgeons never operated. There was no need. Jared was fine. He had a cracked heel bone, a dislocated ankle, torn tendons and ligaments. That was all. Emergency room doctors worked his bones back into place with their hands. His injured ankle wasn't getting enough blood for a while, but the blood soon returned.
He still uses a brace, but only when he plays sports.
"I feel fine. I feel blessed," said Jared, a junior at Cordova High.
"That boy is a walking miracle," said Connie, who now has a picture of Jared on her refrigerator and a fresh perspective.
Jared has healed. So has Connie.
"What happened that day revived my spirits," she said. "I'm not going to worry about my situation. I know God is in control. I had to quit being a recovery room nurse, but I know there are lots of ways I can help people."
Susan has watched the video of Jared's accident a hundred times.
"People have asked how do I stand to watch it," she said. "But in a strange way I find it very comforting. I know there are unseen hands in the video. I have no doubt God and his angels were intervening that day. I can't see them but I know they are there."
Jared's family will celebrate his 17th birthday today. They celebrate Thanksgiving every day.