They say that courage isn’t the absence of fear, rather it’s staring fear in the face and doing precisely the things that, in equal measure, give your life meaning and terrify you. A good dose of fearlessness is required to live the best possible life.
And yet, every time I go a month or two without getting in my kayak, my head churns over all the reasons I shouldn’t paddle anything hard. This past weekend I was cursed with a particularly overactive imagination.
I thought about a recent conversation when a friend asked me whether I had a will. I don’t.
Of course I should. I’m a lawyer, I know all the ways an estate can get hung-up. I have a four-year old who depends on me. On the way to the put-in of my favorite Class IV run, one question looped in my head. What happens to my four-year old if anything happens to me on the river?
I needed a break from my son and craved a day of being something other than a mom. My son started every sentence with mommy and it grated on me, just hearing that word and his need for my help and attention.
Now that I had that break I so dearly needed, I nearly talked myself out of paddling before we even got to the put-in. Even felt like a bad mom for wanting time to myself and wondered if he was still crying to the sitter over my departure.
The water was so crystal clear. Even from my vantage point at the put-in, I could count the rocks on the riverbed, some ten feet underwater. The river turned just out of sight, where the real action begins.
Something about the verdant moss combined with the opaque emerald water beckoned me so I ignored the nagging voice that was saying I should prioritize time with my son, especially now when he still like to hang out with me.
I had the chance to paddle with two of my favorite people on a river that I hadn’t been on for four years. The first drop was followed by half a dozen more, the frothy whitewater a cold splash of reality.
I was alive in the moment, studying the precise fold of a wave, the angle to boof a rock. The energy between us was palpable after every drop.
I recognized every rapid, knew with certainty the ways in which the run could go wrong. I felt a few inches behind where I wanted to be, just off enough to keep me humble and aware.
Everything else fell away, all my responsibilities and endless to-do lists. I stopped thinking about my son, worrying I wasn’t doing my best as a parent.
Before the biggest rapid, we eddied out and my friend told me the line. After the first drop, grabbing the eddy on the right was optional.
“So will you get the eddy?” I asked. Whenever I feel uncertain, I cling to a plan.
She responded off-handedly. “It all depends where I am after the first drop. If it makes sense, I’ll go into the eddy. If not, I’ll angle right and paddle hard through the second drop.”
That’s when in sunk in that the antidote for fear is softening to the opportunities that present themselves, about remaining as open as possible. I exhaled and then kayaked with purpose.
After the first drop the rest of the rapid opened up, and I could see precisely where I wanted to be. I was rusty, so still fought the pushy whitewater to stay on line.
I smiled a big, toothy grin, unable to contain the moment.
We paddled the rest of the river, happy to be together again, the three of us, in this place, one that resonates within each of us as sacred.
I didn’t even flip upside down, much less come close to needing a will in place.
And when I did get home, my son greeted me with a bouquet of flowers, one that he picked out especially for me.
“These are beautiful, mom. Like you,” he said.
I pulled him into a hug, his body folding into mine and inhaled him, which smelled all the sweeter to me after getting on the river.
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