Natalie Goldberg once said, “Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency.” What an accurate statement. Sometimes I feel like stress is a living creature that actually feeds on ignorance or the unknown, sometimes manipulating a person’s judgments.
For example, several weeks ago my wife and I entered into yet another kayaking trip with some of our dear friends. We put our kayaks in the Cumberland River at Williamsburg and intended on floating down the river for a couple of hours.
Reflectively, the last time I had kayaked, I was overturned and caught up in some strong currents. It was a scary moment in my life where I had to give up any semblance of control and let the turbulent river simply wash me downstream. As such, on this new voyage there was a strong sense of trepidation, and despite Goldberg’s quote, maybe there was some justification as we entered out onto the calm river in the late morning.
There is a serene splendor gliding across the murky water in the mornings amongst random flopping fish and under trees hanging over our path, reaching for the sun and the river at the same time. I guess that is why we still go.
Rapids be there though . . . and we came upon them.
When I was young, that is what I would strive for, but now, my heart begins to race as the sound of water rushing over rocks resonates up the river a quarter of a mile before an explorer actually observes them, rolling in the distance across the flat surface of the green water, literally an unknown moment about to advance.
As we came toward the rapids, my cavalier friend maneuvered in and took them first. The rushing water brought him around a bend and pushed him out into calm water. Fortune indeed favors the bold. I was close behind but farther out and was pulled into a tree that had fallen into the water and stretched over part of the rapids. Seriously, no matter how fast I paddled, how I shifted my weight, or how hard I sang “Eye of the Tiger,” I was going into that tree. The water under me surged and twisted my kayak with unrelenting force. Branches from the fallen tree scratched at my arms and face, but miraculously I fought my way through and still kept my balance, albeit a little shaken.
Once past the turbulent water enough to turn around, I looked back to see if the others were going to make it through the obstacle. I will not say whom from our little group, but another one of us ended up in the fallen tree branches, pushed there by the tumultuous current.
I gasped as she capsized. Which in turn, caused the person behind her to capsize (they did not have the eye of the tiger).
In a panic, I remembered how it felt when I overturned months before, instantly underwater and unable to touch bottom as the current surged around me. I immediately beached my kayak and jumped out into the water and ran toward my fallen companion. And run I did, because as I rushed into the river to help, I found the water was only about two feet deep.
“Stress is an ignorant state.” I was so immersed in the last time I had kayaked that I did not see the reality of my current situation. My current fear of the currents seemed less accurate as the water rushed around my thighs. My companions stood wet, but unharmed. I walked out and grabbed the capsized kayak being pushed down the stream and turned it over on the bank so the water could drain out of it. At the same time, I let the stress drain out of me. My friend, farther downstream, caught the hats and debris that spilled out of the wrecked ships (Except for one phone, lost to the adventure).
I know that stress can sometimes be debilitating, and one of the ways to avoid stress is to avoid certain situations. And although I do not completely believe in the aphorism, “Run at what scares you,” I do believe in not letting what scares you control you (not including heights).
As a result, after our excitement, I leaned back in my kayak and appreciated the moment as we drifted down the river. I looked over at my friend I had known since high school and smiled, marveling at the sun reflecting off the water in little droplets of light. Unconsciously, I rubbed the scratches on my arm and thought to myself, “I should have gone first.”
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.firstname.lastname@example.org.