Comparing life to a river is a worn out cliche, I know. But on this day, the day following my oldest son’s 27th birthday and just a few days before my youngest son’s 16th, I can’t think of a better symbol for this journey. (Not even a box of chocolates, Forrest.)
The river thing is fresh and vibrant in my mind having just gone on an all day white water river raft that my 78-year-old aunt arranged on the Rogue River in Grants Pass, Oregon. (We’ll get back to her because she’s pretty amazing.) All day I kept returning to the life/river thing. The day’s story tells it all.
I got up at the crack of dawn. Well, 6:45 a.m. The almost-crack. But on a Saturday, that’s extra early. I think my Aunt had already been up an hour before me playing “Words with Friends” or something on her phone in bed so as not to wake me. We headed north bound for Morrison Lodge. I had looked forward to this hour and a half drive to have one-on-one time with Aunt Necie. Usually when I see her we’re surrounded by hoards of people and I don’t really get to connect just with her.
I wasn’t disappointed. I learned all kinds of things about my ancestors. One that stands out: my paternal Grandma was a foster parent and my dad and his sisters had grown up with fosters, including one named David during Dad’s freshman year. That had never come up before. And, then, why would it? This time alone framed a window for those very interesting stories to fly through.
As we arrived at the Lodge, we met our raft mates and our guide. I thought about how we were going to spend the day together with these six strangers in a raft. Life is like that, isn’t it? Different people get in your boat at different times for different reasons. It may be a group of people that are easy to be with. It may not. You may have a strong guide that will lead you where you need to go…or your guide may pop out of the boat and go flopping down the Rogue leaving you stranded on a rock. (Ahem, Eli.)
We took off down the Rogue in the cool morning. The river was stunning. A quiet, peaceful sanctuary filled with white egrets, blue herons, and osprey with ginormous nests high above us. Glassy water created a mirror for the beautiful black basalt lined with white granite cracks.
Everything was so magnificent. Just to share this creation with others in our boat magnified the beauty. I sat looking out at the miracles surrounding us. I reached my hand over the raft and watched my fingers create a wake in the icy, clear water. I thought about how we are truly surrounded by this same beauty donning different masks each day.
As we floated along, the scenery changed. Sometimes rocky, sometimes filled with thriving evergreens. We saw otters, beavers, turkey vultures of unusual size…we saw deer, and ducks, and–wait, what? A nutria? Turns out these very large river rats are the nemesis of Oregonian farmers because they tunnel into the land and ruin their crops. (Yep. Everybody’s got one of those in their lives somewhere.)
Then came the rapids. Not as smooth as the beauty-drifting, but it’s own kind of white-water experience. When life gets like this–and it’s going to get like this at times because that’s just the nature of the river–we need to remember we still have guides. We still have oars. We still have life jackets.
UNLESS OUR GUIDE FALLS OUT OF THE BOAT AND TAKES THE OARS WITH HIM!
There we were, six passengers stuck on a rock in the rapids, and our guide was floating downstream in the icy river along with several of our oars. This was supposed to be a pansy river ride. We weren’t wearing helmets like those people in my first picture up above and half of us didn’t even wear life jackets much of the time. We signed up for the low-adventure, pretty scenery full day tour.
Don’t you hate it when that happens? When you thought you were going down one kind of ride then all of the sudden somebody cheats or dies or gets cancer or is murdered or has a psychotic break or… And there you are, on this freakin’ river, with the person you were hoping could navigate no longer there to help and you have to figure out what the freak to do. This is when the people in your boat become very important. Choose accordingly.
I was worried about my aunt and she was worried about her phone. She was getting it into the dry bag and I was thinking, “If she falls out, how am I going to go get her? Do I jump out after her?” (She later told me she was not afraid of that at all.) The farmer on our boat–because farmers are self-reliant and can do ANYTHING–stepped up and started doing stuff. I have no idea what he was doing. Just stuff. It looked like stuff that could save us from our predicament so that gave me hope.
Soon, everybody started doing stuff with him. We rocked back and forth. (Not helpful.) We found rope. (Helpful later.) We all moved to the back of the boat. (Eventually what worked, but we could have easily flipped.) Eventually, the guide returned to the side of the river and a joint effort with all (okay, really he and the farmer) set us free back down the river.
Right after that, the river was calm. No rapids anywhere. It was just like none of it ever happened, except for one thing. We kept talking about it. The guide kept talking about how that was a first. The passengers kept talking about the farmer saving the day. I FB- statused of course as a follow-up. And now, I blog. The conversation keeps an event, which in reality is only a few moments and an adventure, alive.
So goes real life. There’s an event of some kind. It lasts a few minutes, but the conversation keeps it going for weeks. Just take a look at CNBC for events that affect the market or ESPN for stories about football players behaving badly. The conversation could send the NASDAQ plummeting or it could change NFL regulations for the better. The conversation has much power, a fact the media uses to bulk up their ratings every second. It can destroy and/or it can transform.
Back to my aunt. At 78-years young, she’s out kayaking in lakes across the state where she drags her kayak in her truck or her van (and her shovel in case she gets stuck due to drought conditions and boat ramps.) She goes out by herself and has done that for as long as I can remember. She’s such a model of a strong woman to me. I’ve watched the way she’s navigated life through celebration and tragedy, always finding a way to glide gracefully down life’s river no matter what. I hope to copy that as I float. I’m so grateful she’s in my boat.