Into the Rapids [Nerd on a Wire]
A few years ago, I jumped off of a perfectly good raft and into the roiling waters of The Colorado River. In other words, I swam a rapid in the Grand Canyon.
Now, I was not alone in this. About half of the group I had been rafting down the canyon with for the past few days also made the leap. And we all wore life vests. And apparently swimming rapids in the Grand Canyon is not uncommon. But as an urban dwelling 21st century man, this whole jumping into churning whitewater littered with boulders thing caused a fair bit of trepidation.
Or fear. Pants pissing, hyperventilating panic and fear.
I stood on the side of the raft watching one person after another hop off and get whisked away by the current. Martin, a 50 year old with a slight heart condition; Daniela, an adventure-seeking 30-something Italo-Swede; Bob, an ultra-conservative former military man. They all jumped off and sped into the white water becoming indistinguishable bobbing orange beacons. In the distance, a second raft waited at the bottom of the rapid to scoop up the swimmers.
My turn came. I looked at the water. It didn’t really look all that rough. Compared to some of the rapids we had navigated, this was nothing. Of course, we’d had a raft when navigating those other rapids. I didn’t have to jump. Other people had chosen not to and no one had judged them. But I’d judge myself. Besides, if someone with a heart condition could do it, so could I. And when else would I have a chance to do this? Yes, I had to jump! I had to! No choice!
I still hadn’t jumped. My brain-decision somehow got sidetracked on the way to the body. Maybe it saw something shiny. Unacceptable. “Body,” I thought, “You will jump!”
And it did. Sort of. It was more a poorly choreographed stumble into the water, but the net effect was identical. The Colorado River took hold of me and pulled me downstream into the rapids.
The waves that hadn’t looked that imposing from above suddenly grew into mountains. They crashed over and around me. I lost track of where I was in relation to the raft. Our guides had told us to focus on breathing, to keep swimming with the current, that the rapids would naturally take us to the second raft. I tried to breathe and resisted the urge to flail about randomly. Water splashed into my mouth. Periodically, I’d see a flash of orange on the other side of the water mountains, another person, but for the most part it was just me and the rapids.
It felt out of control. Unsafe. I didn’t care that Martin or Bob or any of the others had jumped before me. If the water decided to throw me against a rock, I could die. Crap.
For some reason, the acknowledgement of possibly impending death didn’t inspire panic, but calm. I gave up control. Clearly this river could do whatever it wanted to me. I decided to trust it. I think I may have actually said “I trust you” or something. In response, the river spat more water into my mouth.
About three minutes later, I emerged from the rapids twenty feet from the raft. Falling into line behind the other swimmers, I clambered out of the water and wrapped myself in a towel.
I found myself thinking of swimming the rapids this week as I tossed a couple of coffee mugs into a box and left my job. In leaving the security of a paycheck, I’m taking a bit of a leap. And it’s scary as hell, particularly as I start to realize that all of the Great Things I thought I wanted to do with my time. . .maybe I don’t really want to pursue them. It’s all very anxiety provoking and the temptation is to flail about randomly. To get busy just to assuage the anxiety.
I hope I remember to breathe. And try to have faith that there’s a raft at the bottom of this set of rapids. And to trust that I won’t slam into any rocks on the way down.
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featured image credit: JoshuaDavisPhotography