Saturday, June 30, 2007

River of Life

Now I know how Moses felt.

Bear in mind I'm not talking about the adult Moses, who led his people out of slavery, parted the Red Sea, and brought the Ten Commandments to the world.

I'm talking about the infant Moses, who, before he grew up to become Charlton Heston, was set adrift in the Nile by his mother. (Thanks, Ma!)

I went tubing on the Delaware River today and I got that same feeling of helplessness as I planted my butt inside a rubber tube and set myself adrift in the Delaware.

As I sit here typing this, I am exhausted, sunburned, and delusional, though that last one may be a pre-existing condition. I also stubbed my toe something awful this evening and I think I may have gotten some nasty river virus.

Oh, but I had a great time. I'm hurting like a veteran cage fighter, but I tried something different, I expanded my world and faced my fears. And found they were perfectly justified.

I had won this trip from a singles group when I attended one of their earlier events, a tour of a wineries in the Northfork of Long Island. And I won that trip on the infamous Spin Doctor horseback ride-for-my-life in Central Park.

Once again, I had to get up early, race over to the city and get on board a bus. And, once again, we played that ridiculous "Over and Under" game with the rolls of toilet paper.

And once again my team won. This time I get a chance to--get ready--go white water rafting!

Hey, is it me or are these free trips of mine getting more dangerous? I'm worried I'm going to win a free lion-taming event or be fired out of a cannon. Plus I've won enough of these toilet paper games to include it as a skill on my resume.

The trip was relatively quick going out and in a short while we were all lined up with our tubes at this lovely spot in New Jersey.

I can't swim and, being the nervous type, I decided to request a life jacket. One of the people running the tubing company asked if any one wanted one and I started to raise my hand. Then she went for the wisecrack.

"If you think you're going to drown," she told us, "just stand up."

Everyone laughed and I quickly put my hand down. The water was 4 to 6 feet deep, so I would have looked like a fool if I put one on, but the fact is I can't swim and I'm also under six feet tall. Once again, though, pride won out over common sense. What a shock.

We went down to the river and I was feeling fairly confident. I got into the water without incident and started floating.

I can handle this, I thought, what's the big deal?

Funny I should ask. I noticed that the group was slowly getting away from me. I seemed to be going nowhere and when I tried to paddle, I started spinning in circles.

I've been going in circles for most of my life on land and repeating the process in the water was even worse. I cursed, I fumed, and I fell behind.

I felt like such an idiot. I'm athletic, I'm adaptable, and yet I couldn't get going. Little kids were floating by me and shaking their heads in sympathy. Or was it disgust?

The whole point of this thing was to meet people, socialize and have a good time. Now I was just floating down the river like a mobster's discarded corpse. This was an offer I could easily refuse.

Dueling Banjoes

I started to panic. What if they group got down to the food stand for lunch, ate their meals, and then took off without me? All my stuff--wallet, cell phone, house keys--was all back in the bus. How would I get out of this wilderness?

As you can see, I handled the situation calmly and rationally. I started paddling with one arm, which seemed to work. And which also did a number on my upper arm.

I lost my bottle of suntan oil because I had no idea how I'd turn around to get it. Maybe some unprotected person found it and put it to good use.

My group was completely out of sight. A family from Long Island watching my struggle offered to let me join their group, which, though tempting, wouldn't have solved the problem of my belongings.

And I suspect my tour's organizers might have gotten a little concerned when I failed to make an appearance.

I had all these angry thoughts as I struggled, things from my past that had absolutely nothing to do with the problem at hand. My mind just dredges up these thoughts to make things worse.

That's why mindfulness-concentrating on the breath-is so important in keeping you in the moment.

I also thought of a Three Stooges episode where the boys crowd into a canoe to escape hostile Indians and Curly sends the craft flying across the river like a torpedo with one swipe of his paddle. I was desperate enough to seek Curly's help.

Okay, time out here. I have to acknowledge the repetition in my life. Horseback riding in the park, mule riding down the Grand Canyon, and now this. I constantly find myself in situations that are supposed to be fun, but wind up scaring the living hell out of me.

I'm no thrill-seeker, I don't dive out of airplanes or skateboard along the rims of live volcanos. I just want to have a good time, damn it. Why do I insist upon playing Daniel Boone?

I finally crawled up to the lunch tent. My group was there, but they had, of course, finished their meal. They could have had a 12-course meal and smoked a box of Cuban cigars in the time it took me to get there.

"I'm sorry I'm late," I said, staggering to shore. "But I had to help a woman down river who was going into labor. The good news is she's naming the baby after me."

That got a few laughs and, like a lot of things, I found I had pretty much worried for nothing.

We ate, talked, and then--ye gods--it was time to get back into the river. I was determined to do better this time and I did, at least marginally.

The current picked up at one point and started carrying me in the wrong direction, but the water was shallow enough for me to get up, tube and all, and just walk over to the right side of the river.

A short time later, I started losing control of the tube again and I tried to calm down. This experience was a lot like life, where I get into tough situations I don't like and get all flustered.

So the lesson here is to avoid stuff you know is going to be trouble and when you're stuck, just paddle your way to the clear.

I have to say the weather was great and the scenery was gorgeous. When I took a break from my nervous breakdown I did appreciate my surroundings.

I finally reached the pick-up point and stumbled up onto dry land. One of our group leaders was looking at me rather oddly as I made my way to the bus.

"Your tube is much bigger than everyone else's," she said.

She was right. My rubber donut was indeed the biggest one in the group. That may explain my trouble on the water. I'm not a spastic nitwit, I just had the wrong equipment. Size really does matter--and, in this case, not for the better.

My dad used to say "a poor carpenter faults his tools," and I'll keep that in mind if I ever decide to rebuild my kitchen. On this day, I was the victim.

The ride back to New York was bumper-to-bumper misery. I was getting tired and crank(ier). But we made it and I learned of another skill I don't have.

So let's have a new commandment: Thou Shalt Not Freak Out. Life's tough enough already and the good times are way too brief.

Now, on to white water rafting!


Ash said...

Indeed, living in the moment is quite a lesson to take from this, Robert. Also, don't ever let your fears stop you from trying new things. At the end of the day, not only would you have met great people and made new friends, but perhaps even learned a little something and had fun doing it. When you talk about being old and not having a thing to show for it, this is exactly the kind of stuff you need to show for your time here and be proud of it. How you didn't fear and tried your damnest to live, meeting some great people along the way. You learned loads, taught some and paddled your way to the shore when you were down and out and when everything inside you said you were gonna drown.

A lot of people have property and heaps of bank notes to show for their years of endless struggle and hard work, in the process often forgetting to actually live but not many can leave that sentiment behind. Consider that.

In that regard, Moses and the Nile is a little too dramatic, don't you think? This time let's just go with King Solomon and the ant that won't give up :) I think it's as relevant today as it was then, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!"

The bit about the free lion-taming event and the woman in labor had me bursting out in laughter. And there couldn't have been a more inopportune time for it than at the hospital library. Everyone's looking at me funny now! :-D

Loved this piece, Robert. Great read, as always! Soldier on, buddy! :)

Rob K said...

Thanks so much, Ash. It was a hell of a day and I just had to write about it.

Your insights are spot on as usual.

And go ahead and laugh. Funny looks won't hurt you.

Anne said...

Rock on, Rob. You'll be walking on live coals before you've finished winning these things.

My gut tells me there is something you're supposed to learn in all these trials, or there wouldn't always be a ticket to a new one. It's like something from a fairy tale. Or a reality show.

Rob K said...

If this is a fairy tale, I'm going to track down my fairy godmother and beat the crap out of her.

It's more like an episode of SmackDown and the scary thing is I'm starting to enjoy myself. Oh, the joys of being Catholic.