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It's My Turn Now
F-ollow Your Dreams, for as you dream, so you shall become.
Wild Waters Run Deep If we wait for our hands to stop shaking, we will never open the door.
No doubt about it, a fortieth birthday requires a spectacular celebration. So I did what I thought a self-respecting, bold woman who has learned that she is responsible for her happiness might do—I decided to make my own party and take it with me! That my celebration took place in a foreign country, where I was alone, surrounded by a group of strangers and involved a near-death experience that coincided with my birthday was grist for the mill.
I decided to go white-water rafting because it was something new and wild and adventurous that would push the fear envelope. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, 'You must do the thing you think you cannot do.' White-water rafting through class IV and class V rapids down the Rio Pacuare in the Costa Rican rain forest seemed like just the ticket! So, I packed my Spanish tape, water bottle, bathing suit, sandals and sunscreen, and set off for my 'Fortieth Birthday White-Water Rafting Adventure of a Lifetime.' Little did I know, wild waters run deep.
I should have taken it as a premonition when our bus made a pit stop along the road to the river where a vendor was selling 'I survived Rio Pacuare' T-shirts. I bought one and put it on; people on the bus with me all laughed! Maybe I should have thought better of getting in a raft with a group of total strangers, most who had never rafted before, and going down a river with such potential danger. And, it probably is not the best thing to be with guides who speak limited English and give only cursory lessons in rafting, which mostly included telling us to hold on, a lot. And, maybe there is something to the proliferative liability laws that we have in the United States, at least as far as the safety protection they may offer toward the assumption of risk.
Well, you probably guessed it. Not too long into the experience, I was knocked out of the raft, went over a small waterfall into a whirlpool (they call it a 'hydraulic'; I call it 'hell') and got sucked to the bottom of the river in a swirling confusion of water. And that was just the beginning of the ride. Fortunately, I did have on a helmet and life jacket. I can't imagine what I would have done without them. Nevertheless, I did get quite an exfoliation from the numerous rocks I hit, not to mention all the water I swallowed.
While I was busy getting more than I bargained for, I had an epiphany about life. While being tossed about by those wonderful, wild waters and flopping in and out of submersion like a rag doll, my mind took me to another place. Somehow, I got my feet pointed downstream like you're supposed to. And, I did my best to keep my head above water as much as possible, which, actually, was nearly impossible. It was horrible trying to breathe and not being able to get enough air. But, I became incredibly calm, despite the sheer terror of the situation and the possibility that I might die.
I thought, Oh wow. I fell into the river in the middle of a rapid. Boy, this really hurts my lungs to try to breathe. Hmmm. Wow. Hey, I might die! I actually felt pretty neutral about the whole thing, living or dying, that is, and I had a strange sort of peacefulness and the ability to watch myself almost from the outside. Maybe all those Buddhist meditation exercises and books about 'mindfulness' had paid off!
They tell me that the primary reason I survived that day is precisely because I did not fight the river, because I did not try to swim against the almighty power of rushing water, because I did, in a sense, surrender to the experience. I let the river take me where it would. I actually went through three whirlpools, and each time it got easier.
The drama that day was high magnitude. All the other rafters pulled over to the shore. People were crying and praying and most just looked on with terror at what was unfolding. There were several ropes across the river and three experienced kayakers went in for my rescue. It was quite a scene.
Later, the guides talked about how amazingly polite I was during my rescue. I don't remember that at all. Inside, I am pretty sure I felt like grabbing some guy by the shirt and growling, 'Get me out of here, now!' But, in reality, they say that when a kayak came toward me, I simply held out my hand and arm and meekly said, 'Could you please help me?' Please? I said that? I learned that oftentimes a rescuer is nearly drowned by someone who desperately wants out of the river.
I was dragged to shore and given medical attention and lots of people cheered and some pretty cute Costa Rican guys were all giving me high-fives. I enjoyed the moment and the attention I was getting, until they told me I had to get back in the raft and continue down the river. I really did not want to do that at all, but I found out I had no choice. Also, I could tell everyone's morale seemed to be hanging on my getting back in that raft and going on.
Not feeling very brave, I did go on. I got through the whole course of the river and lived to tell about it. I do have to admit to hunkering down in the middle of the raft a few times when I was supposed to be paddling, but I was scared, and that was the best I could do.
One thing I learned that day is that your best is all you can do and that is exactly what you should do—and your best is very often good enough. Sometimes you fall out of the raft and have to get back in and continue on down the river. And sometimes the best way to get through a difficulty is to just let it be! Don't fight it. Let it be difficult. Know that that is what is happening and that your reaction to it, is what it is. Surrender doesn't mean doing nothing, being passive. Or being perfect. On the contrary, it is a very active thing to let yourself have the experience and not try to control it.
Certainly, I will always remember how I survived that day and how I handled the challenge—who could forget? Even more important, I will carry with me always and be grateful for the lessons I learned from those 'wild waters' about how to live my life.
©2008. Benita Tobin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Chicken Soup to Inspire a Woman's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Stephanie Marston. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.