“Hold on, but if you cain’t hold on, make dang sure yer feet are pointin’ down river!” -Hank, a river guide on the American River, Northern California
Good advice. I don’t know why, but river rafting popped into my head as I sat down just now. I’ve been on a river exactly twice, nearly 25 years ago. I have no idea why I am struck by the notion of writing about river rafting, but I am. Vaguely. I figured, hmm, might as well go with it. So, in the countless seconds I’ve been contemplating river rafting I’ve developed a sound theory; sound as any I’ve heard on CNN lately! Here it is:
River rafting and life are very similar exercises in futility. What’s that mean? Basically it means that no matter what you think, no matter what you want, no matter how much prior planning you do, things are going to get upset and, eventually, you’re gonna end up all wet. I mean, life is an uncontrollable force. We are all subject to the whims of the universe. A stray asteroid or random solar flare and it’s all over for us. Let’s face it, we’re pretty much sitting ducks. That soild, enviro-friendly vehicle you drive, well, we all know what happens if a rogue cement truck doesn’t slow down in time. And here’s another thought, go ahead and save the planet all you want, but rest assured, it is doing its damnedest to destroy us!
Back to rafting…
Life is like a river, right? (That’s pretty much a cliché, but true enough for my purposes here, so shine it!!) Anyway, when you are on the river, you have the illusion of control, but essentially, the entire trip is you against the river, which is just running its course, (pun intended). No matter how often you paddle and stroke, in the end, it’s mostly up to luck and the randomness of currents that decide your fate. Yes, there is some skill and teamwork involved, but some rapids are so particularly calamitous, so fierce, that if you don’t hit them just right everyone’s going over the side. You must decide that you’re all in or you pull your boat and traipse around the obstacle, meekly trying to avoid eye contact with the water. It is pretty much life in a nutshell or a rubber-hulled raft.
On a river or in life I think there is just one course of action: Face it head on! Go for it! (Thank you, Rocky.) Damn the consequences! It’s the only way to go, because in the end, the world keeps on spinning and the river keeps on moving. Both are unstoppable and both are daunting.
But not impossible to negotiate!
As hopeless as a raging, churning river and the process of living may seem at times, there is always a choice. You can rollover and lament the horror of it all or you can dig your paddle in and stroke for all you’ve got.
I choose to paddle!
Here’s a joke from Hank the river guide. (I have no way of knowing if the guy’s name was Hank. Truth is, I don’t remember, but he was strong and confident and he had a folksy way of speaking that I recall now with fondness.) It’s totally paraphrased and I couldn’t tell you if I remember it correctly or who wrote it originally, but it goes something like this:
A river tour was getting ready to embark and a young kid among the party noticed the guide packing his dry bag. Among other things, the guide packed a red shirt, some yellow shorts, and some brown pants. Later on during the trip, after the novice crew had successfully made it through some of the toughest rapids on the river, the kid asked the guide about his bag.
“Well, the red shirt is for when I think things might get kinda hairy and I may get hurt. I put on the red shirt so the tourists don’t see blood and panic,” the guide explained. “The yellow shorts are for days when the river feels mightier than the hand of God and I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of the customers. You know what I mean?” he said with a wink. The kid nodded.
“What about the brown pants?” the kid asked.
“Those? Those are for the very worst rapids, the rapids that can take a man and twirl him about like a ragdoll, send him into the rocks and peel his skin from his bones like seasoned sushi chef!”
“Kinda like the rapids we’re headed into now,” the guide said quietly reaching for his bag.
“Got another pair?” the kid asked.