My desk sits at a spot in my classroom where at a certain moment in the morning, the sun peaks over the top of my filing cabinet, its rays sneaking through the spaces between an old world globe, a framed picture of my wife, and a geode rock that we picked up on a kayaking trip we had taken with the adventurous Mrs. Hail, another Biology teacher here at the school.
Sadly, I haven’t been kayaking in a while. My last trip rattled me a bit. It is strange how debilitating encroaching age mixed with fear can be. And while it is one thing to acknowledge it, it is yet quite another to overcome it. I’ve no doubt I will enter into the water again with my kayak, but for now, I am comfortable in my respite.
Last year, my wife and I invited my son and his girlfriend to go kayaking in Big South Fork. We were bussed to the drop-off point early in the morning with our kayaks, and talked briefly with the driver on the ride up. She was a guide of sorts, although she would not be going down the river with us. She explained that the week before, the water had been too high, and they had cancelled a tubing trip because of it. She also went on to explain what we should do if our kayak flips while in the rapids.
She dropped us off, and half an hour later we dropped our kayaks into the water. There is truly nothing like the feel of skimming across the river in the early hours of the morning as the sun lifts a lulling fog off the water. The sun’s penetrating reflection looks like diamond rivets atop the water, alive and solid through the ghostly mist.
We were on the water about 15 minutes that morning before hearing the rapids. It took another 15 to reach them. Sound travels a long way across the top of the water. I opted to go first in an attempt to see how bad they were; however, we were in a line propelled by the current. Ultimately, to my ignorance, it did not matter how bad it was, we were all going through the rapids.
Entering into them, they seemed surprisingly high from my vantage point on the water, and while I stayed in the saddle for the first few seconds, the water turned me sideways. Suddenly, I had no balance and was heaved into the cold water. Apparently I can’t float sideways.
I had never been in such tumultuous currents. I immediately attempted to swim, but like a rag doll, I was viciously swept along. I kept going under and swallowing water in the futile struggle, despite my lifejacket, and I started to panic. I had absolutely no control of my body and was quickly tiring out, not to mention the horrible dread I felt for my wife, son and his girlfriend as they entered into the same spot. There would be no way I could help them, and to this day, I think that is one of the worst feelings I have ever felt.
Finally, I remembered the bus driver’s advice she had casually given that morning over the sound of the bus engine. I leaned back and relaxed my body, keeping my head above water the best I could. Ultimately, it was the only thing I could do, and it worked. Eventually, I came upon my kayak and raised my right arm and held on to it. I flowed down the river like an agitated leaf for about five minutes before I was able to gain any control.
I was the only one who capsized that morning. My wife, son, and his girlfriend had their kayaks spin in a circle twice and came out the other end of the rapids unscathed. Apparently, I can’t spin in a circle.
In the past, when I have heard of people facing such calamities, I imagined, to my ignorance, it was the lack of physical strength that kept them from surviving. It has nothing to do with strength.
Louis Pasteur once said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” I think what saved me, or helped me immensely, was my mind. My mental reaction to the situation undoubtedly changed the outcome, not the physical struggle.
However, I did not prepare myself. I was prepared, and thus providence found its way to me over the grind of an old bus engine. Thank God.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.email@example.com.