Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Caught in the Current

When I was 11 or 12, I took a dare to swim across the river in my city.  It was summertime, so the water-level wasn't overly high, but there would still be a relatively strong current and a good patch in the middle where my feet wouldn't be able to touch the ground.

The river had carved out a valley, a quite solitude in the midst of a busy metropolis.  The hills were dried and yellow from the blazing summer skies, but down in the val, ley, it was cooler and the soil was rich and the trees were well watered and flourishing.  I squinted up at the sky, at wisps of cotton candy clouds and the sort of blue that makes you feel both serene and imaginative all at the same time.  My cut-off jean shorts were already wet, strings of frayed white threads dripping cool water down my tanned legs.

With a hearty splash, my brother forged ahead of me: dutifully proving his bravery and leadership in our outdoor pursuits.  I watched as he waded deeper and deeper into the water, the force of the river causing him to lean and then yelp as he was overcome by the current, now fully committed to swimming to the other side with a strong front crawl.

After being pulled downstream somewhat, the water became more shallow, and he found his footing on the slippery river rocks.  He tumbled, sopping wet, out of the water on the opposite bank of the river and beckoned to me to hurry and join him.

My upbringing never led me to be sheltered or shy or overly cautious.  I only hesitated for a moment before moving deeper into the water.  I looked down at the clean, rushing water and the muted green, gray, tan and pink rocks beneath me.  My feet felt icy cold but the water was refreshing on this hot summer day as the sun shone bright on my bare arms and dark hair.  I slipped on a slimy rock for a moment, the current getting stronger and throwing me off balance and I stubbed my toe.  "Ouch!" I whimpered to myself, but with a steel jaw I gritted my teeth, intent on moving forward and passing this test of summer bravery.

As the water moved up my legs, past my calves, licking at my knees and then immersing my thighs, I felt a chilly thrill of excitement.   It was to the point where I had to lean into the current, ever so mindful of my steps, so I wouldn't slip and plunge fully into the water.  Finally, it was too much... I had to fully commit myself to the adventure, and I dove into the water with my whole body and began to swim.

It seemed easy, at first.  I had taken swimming lessons throughout my childhood and was a strong swimmer.  By my little muscles were no match for the ferocious current.  With my head bobbing on the surface and my feet barely grazing the rocks below me, I felt myself being carried downstream.

It is the loss of control that terrifies.  There comes many a moment in life where everything seems to rush in and surround you, and you are simply treading water; a clear sky above you, taunting you, while frightening cold water immerses you from the neck down.  The world began to pass before my eyes as I watched the shoreline with my brother standing and waiting move out of my sight and I was caught in the current, heading downstream.

I fought with everything inside of me and settled my sights on some trees on the seemingly distant shore.  My arms moved frantically, my legs fluttered and I gulped deep breaths of air as I struggled to keep my chin out of the water.  Desperation and panic prompted my legs and arms to continue their fight against the power of the water.

Then my feet met the bottom and I stumbled my way to more shallow water.  My heart pounded with the adrenaline and I felt instant relief at the solid ground beneath me.  With each wobbly step forward, the sun kissed my goosebumped skin, the river water making little rivulets of water from my long hair down my back.

Sometimes life's responsibilities bring me back to my river experience; that place of panicked uncertainty where you must keep your eyes on the distant horizon and plunge forward with all your might.  One thing I remember about that summer day, was a quiet moment when I was struggling in the middle of the river.  I tilted my head up towards the sky, my body nearly fully immersed with even my ears underwater and filled with the river's roar.  In that moment, the light of the sun beamed upon my nose, my forehead and my cheeks and even though the river was carrying me downstream, the glorious radiance of the sun upon my face was restorative and strengthening.

Life's messes scream at us, demanding our attention.  Sometimes you just need to tilt your head up and behold the power of the light.

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