Back in the late 90’s, I went on an adventure of a lifetime and I nearly lost my life because of it. A group of friends and I went white water river rafting on the Ocoee River. I had never done anything like this and I was excited and frightened at the same time. Thousands of people went on these trips, so it had to be perfectly safe. Right? Little did I know that I would be having an experience that I now hope I never have to experience ever again.
The trip started off nice enough. Eight of us in one raft with my friends sitting across from each other. Me? I sat across from the ‘guide in training.’ This guide thought she was ‘it’ and thought she already knew everything. When she told her supervisors that she wanted to take the raft down the river by herself, I got a very sick feeling in my stomach and knew we were in trouble. (Note to self…. Never sit across from a ‘guide in training’ in a raft on ferocious waters.)
We pushed off the starting ramps and headed down the calm waters. I admit it was beautiful. That part of the trip was wonderful, but it was short lived. We soon came to a spot in the river where rocks caused a little gully of white water. Our guide positioned the raft sideways in the gully causing the raft to drastically thrash to and fro. My friends were all hanging on to each other so no one would fall out. Me? I had the ‘guide in training who knew everything’ and she was going to show everyone she didn’t need anyone helping her stay in the raft, which left me to fend for myself. It didn’t take more than a couple of seconds until I realized my body wasn’t going to stay raft bound and over I went. My friends told me later that the look on my face before I fell overboard was priceless. Not funny!
On down the river I went; how fast, I don’t know. They tell you that if this happens to put your feet straight out in front of you down river. Not going to happen. To be honest, I was just hoping that I would come out of the water so that I could take a breath of that fresh air that we tend to take for granted. That wasn’t going to happen either. All of a sudden, everything got very peaceful and quiet, and I found myself calmly thinking, “Hmmmm. This is interesting. I never thought I would die like this. This is going to put a real damper on my friends’ day.”
It felt like time had stopped and yet I knew I was continuing down the river, underwater, no air, and who knows what awaited my fate. Finally, I felt myself start to rise to the surface, but when I did, something hit my head keeping me from inhaling that precious nothingness we call air. With horror, I realized I came up directly under a raft! Again, thoughts entered my mind. “Okay, this another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into! This is it! The end of my life! This is not a good day!” Suddenly, I felt something grab my life jacket and start pulling. “God? Is that you?!? I didn’t know you could pull a life jacket!!!” As I felt myself being pulled upward, I could only imagine that I was being pulled into heaven and I would be meeting all my family, friends, and pets very soon. But alas, I discovered it the guide in the boat (not a guide in training) who just happened to see me go under the raft. His quick thinking probably saved my life.
Taking a huge gulp of air into my lungs, reality started to set in. While taking stock of my body to make sure it was in one piece, I found that my sunglasses were crooked on my face and wedged under the helmet I was wearing and my hair was sticking out everywhere. I had to have been a sight. Since I sometimes use humor to deal with stressful situations, I jokingly yelled, “That’s it! I want out! Put me on the road because I’m walking home!”
The nice guide, my savior, my hero, hung on to me at the side of his raft while we waited for my raft to come pick me up. I was either brave or stupid, but I got back into that raft; the one with the ‘guide in training who knew everything there was to know about anything.’
We continued on our way while my friends joked and made fun of my little mishap. It became another ‘only Karen’ story which I knew I would never live down. I was just starting to relax and enjoy the scenery when all of a sudden our raft stopped in the middle of the river. To our surprise, our ‘guide in training’ got us stuck on a huge rock. I mean stuck as cannot go forward, cannot go backward, cannot go sideways kind of stuck. She yelled “row!” and we obediently lifted our oars in the air, but before we could get them in the water, she yelled “stop!” We did this several times never getting our oars in the water and we kind of looked at each other thinking that surely this couldn’t be the plan. Somehow we miraculously got off the rock and continued on our journey.
A little while later, I looked ahead and was aghast to see white water…lots of white water. Having just had my life saved from my underwater adventure, I wondered if my life had been saved only to lose it up ahead. I also wondered if I could jump ship now and swim to shore. Do anything and be anywhere except in that raft with our ‘guide in training.’ But I was stuck and was going to have to see this through. Gripping everything I could grip, I hung on for dear life, because yes, I was learning that life is very dear! The white water ahead was the highest rated and roughest. In we go! It only lasted a minute if that, but I made sure my oar was doing its job, though I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be swung the way I was swinging it.
At last, we made it to the other side. I made it! I could breathe! I was alive! And still in the raft! You can bet your sweet bippy that when we got to land and I got out of that raft, I fell and kissed the very ground I was walking on! I love you, land! Solid ground beneath my feet! What a sweet and wonderful feeling!
Later when I started a career as a public speaker, I was able to use this story as an analogy. Life is like a river. Like the river, we’re going to have our smooth, calm, and peaceful times. Everything is going well for us. No stress. Life is good. But also like a river, there are going to be rough times. There are going to be white water moments where life is tough, there’s going to be pain and suffering, and we’re going to have those ‘life sucks’ moments in time. You may even feel like you’re going over a water fall not knowing whether you’re going to make it or not. But using the analogy of the river, there are going to be calm periods of time once again. We just have to hang on for the ride and accept the fact that life is like a river and we just have to go with the flow.
We can fight the river and try to go upstream to stay out of the white waters, but that only causes more stress because we are going against the flow of life. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to take your oars out of the water. Sometimes we just need to let go and release our attachments to the way we think things should be. When we put our oars in the water, we’re trying to control the river (life) and many times we don’t have control. Keeping our oars out of the water and trusting a Higher Power (God, Universe, Spirit, Nature, the God of our understanding) to guide us, can bring more peace to our lives. And trust me, that Higher Power is not a guide in training!
So you see, it’s not the river (life) that’s bad. It’s our attitude towards it that makes or breaks us. We can look at it as something frightening and something to be avoided, or we can look at it as an adventure. Don’t take it so seriously. Yes, many really serious things do happen to us, but there are many who have gone through the most horrendous experiences, were able to have a good attitude about it, and came through it a much stronger and better person because of whatever they went through. It’s our choice as to what kind of attitude we’re going to have. Life is meant to be enjoyed. It’s just we humans who make it so difficult. Life is a wonderful and crazy adventure!
I have a saying: “Life is like a roller coaster. You can either hang on for dear life and scream in terror. Or you can put your hands up in the air, enjoy the ride, and scream, ‘Wheeeeeeeee!’” Your adventure is yours and yours alone. Make it a good one!
Published in the Putnam County Visions Magazine, August 2014 issue.