Dear Mountain Mama,
My boyfriend is crazy. During the polar vortex, when temperatures hovered in the single digits, he went kayaking. We fought. I worried about that icy water, about him getting hypothermia, or worse, drowning. I begged him to stay home – warm, cozy, and safe, with me. Despite my tears, he paddled.
What gives? Does he have a river addiction? Will he always chose the water over me?
Dear Lonely Heart,
It’s been said that some men have a need to look death in the eye. Not once, but time and again, the way some women have a need for chocolate. They say men either paddle hard whitewater or kill a barnyard animal. A primal need wells up inside of them, becoming toxic and overflowing until it seeps into every other aspect of their lives. Simply put, some men need to paddle in order to live well, including putting their best foot forward in their relationships with significant others.
Maybe some women have that need too. Not me. Any time I think of death or injury on the water, my mind turns to my shadow life on shore, the one where my toddler waits for me. Always I chose the safety of staying on dry land, of feeling the weight of my little boy in my arms one more time.
But there are days when I need to get outside. Not to defy death, but to celebrate life. After forty-eight hours cooped up at home with my son last week, I called everyone I knew to babysit so I could go cross country skiing, using borrowed gear. The sensation of gliding over snow felt so good after not exercising for more than a day. Breathing in that cold air refreshed my lungs.
As the evening became blanketed by darkness, stars appeared. So many stars shone down on us that night that it seemed possible to pluck one from the sky, if only I reached high enough. Our friend who knows the position of the planets like the back of his hand explained how space stretches out into infinity. Gazing from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my mind grappled with the concept of forever, of beginnings and ends, and of space, that perhaps neither starts nor finishes.
Standing underneath the starlit sky, I realized how big the universe is, and my own impossibly tiny place within it. The stars reminded me of how far-reaching my dreams are, and how connected, even though distant, we are to every other thing in this world. The bright light pulsed through me, emanating joy, hope, possibility, smallness, forgiveness, and fear, all at once. I’d never felt that sensation before, and searched for a word. My brain finally settled on one – prayer.
I went home that night to the sweet sound of a quiet house, my son fast asleep. The babysitter commented on how blissed out I looked, and I told her why. I was pretty sure I glimpsed God on the Parkway that night. Being outside is the place where I go to know my own spirituality, a sacred place to get better acquainted with higher powers.
Lonely Heart, I can’t begin to speculate on why your own dear man needed to go to the river that day. But what I can say is that it’s almost always better to let him go, without any guilt, without a fight. Whether he’s got to stare down death and come out ahead, or he’s got a date with Mother Nature, either way he’s bound to come back a happier partner. And that, Lonely Heart, will result in a happy ending for both of you.