When I was younger, I didn’t fully grasp how my mom could be so in touch with the fact that life goes on. I would sigh with frustration over a botched physics project or a friend who was driving me crazy, and I would wonder aloud what to do and fix and change. Meanwhile, after having listened to me carefully, given advice, and understood me deeply, my mom would say, “Well, this too shall pass.”
I don’t think I heard my mom out until I went rafting (which I didn’t know actually meant “white-water rafting” until I arrived at the river) last fall at Ohiopyle, PA. After listening to instructions on how not to drown, I strapped on a helmet and a life vest, climbed into a rubber boat with four friends, and was plunged forward almost instantly into a pitch of frothy water.
The 7.5-mile stretch of the Lower Yough was surrounded by trees colored blissfully by autumn, but beneath the sky, the river roared. From the tops of boulders, guides yelled out directions. I sat at the helm and screamed, “In! In!” to keep my group’s strokes in unison. Eventually, the current slackened to a bubble, and I giggled nervously, but in reality, I was terrified with a soul-clutching fear, paralyzing and deep (you can sense this in the photos). Around the bend, the current only picked up, and my valiant group dug back in, was tossed back, and then heaved forward.
But at the Swimmer’s Rapids about 2.5 hours in, the worst of all worlds happened: our boat began careening toward another group of rafters who had gotten themselves lodged on the crest of a small waterfall. In a brave attempt to not hit the group with our paddles, my friends and I all did what you are not supposed to — we leaned away from the oncoming collision. It only took half a second for our boat to flip. A powerful, icy claw of water whisked me backwards, choking and gasping, downstream away from the others at an unimaginable speed.
Never (and I’m quoting my original post from 2013) have I felt as helpless as I did when the sound of my own splash was lost amid the roar of the rapids. There was nothing to grab onto. Cartoon-like, I imagined myself being tossed a tightly-secured jungle vine that would go taunt and hold me firm, but my hands only closed around icy water. My mouth coughed out foam.
Water was in my contacts, my ears, a knife in my chest. I careened toward boulders only to be whisked around them by the current. I could barely see above the surface. I knew enough to keep my feet up as to not get caught on hidden rocks; I knew there was nothing to do; but my heart was pounding. I had to remind myself to breathe.
Eventually, my body drifted into a pool of calmer water where other teams of rafters had paused for further instruction. People were yelling out instructions and extending hands and paddles tauntingly beyond my reach. Eventually, two women grasped the straps of my life vest and heaved me, dead-fish like, onto the red rubber of their raft floor.
And I finally understood my mother.
Sometimes in life, there will be rapids where there is nothing to grab (I’ve felt this way all month). It’s going to be scary (it has been). You may not know how long the rapid will go, but at the end, there will be a pool of calm (I’m waiting for it).
This too shall pass. Just breathe.