It started like any other Saturday, full of sunshine and promise. As a last hurrah before school started, my husband and I decided to take the kids kayaking. A good friend and her daughter joined us. Little did I know, the day would go off course and become a story I would tell and re-tell.
Our stories, like my kayak story, are the fabric of who we are. The memories that we file away fill the scrapbook that tells our story. Page after page, we fill in the blanks with the twists and turns that our lives take.
As we launched our three tandem kayaks that day, we commented on the perfection of the weather, a breeze at our backs pushing us along the waterway. We giggled at our amateur status and fumbled awkwardly with the drippy oars. As we made our way into the open water, we noted the boats zipping back and forth, a busy Saturday on the popular Shem Creek. Without much thought, we steered right, without noticing all the guided kayak tours were headed left.
We let the current carry us over to a small beach, where the girls built happy sand castles and my son explored the beach with his usual Christopher Columbus zest for life. As we loaded back up into the kayaks, my husband gave us all a strong push back into the harbor. We began to make our way back, but the current and the tides joined forces to malign our efforts.
Despite my feverish paddling, I could not get back into the harbor. The current merely laughed at my puny paddle strokes and pushed me back towards the shoreline. I paddled until blisters formed on my thumbs and my arms began to clench in pain, but I barely moved an inch. As soon as I made any minute progress, the wind or a passing boat would knock me back, and the current effortlessly carried me back towards the shore.
Such is life, that the current and nature intervenes, and we have to find a way to stay on course. In those moments where crisis strikes us, we begin to weave the story of what is happening in our minds, attaching our own meaning and significance to the story’s details. What we tell ourselves in those moments is critical, shaping our story and self-perception like a squishy piece of clay.
In my crisis, I was circling the drain. I began to curse prolifically, introducing my wide-eyed 5 year old to the word, “Shit,” (which she proudly continues to say). Inside my head, I growled at myself for being so weak and chided myself for my stupid idea to kayak without a guide. My husband, always the patient nurturer, never left my side and worked double-time to push my kayak back on course while paddling his own. He coached me, he encouraged me, even while I yelled mercilessly at him.
“Gooooo get help now. I CAN’T do it!” And when he started to row away from me, I screamed, “NO, don’t leave me!” I lost my cool; I was a petulant child. There may have been some tears. In my head, I had a brief flash of what life would be like without my husband. I would be lost; I would just perpetually float like a loser to Loserland. (Off topic, but I would also never be able to open a jar of pickles again).
My mind began weaving the story, writing him as the hero and me as the weak damsel in distress.
And then, a miracle happened. I put my paddle into the water and hit the sandy bottom. Even as we were paddling our hearts out, fighting the wind and the current with all the biceps we could muster, all we had to do the whole time was step out of the kayak and walk. Turns out, it was low tide, and we walked our kayaks into the harbor, just like Jesus walking on water. A true miracle.
Isn’t it so true that sometimes we make things so hard, fighting the current and exhausting ourselves with shenanigans, when all we have to do is just stand up and walk forward?
From there, we were able to paddle swiftly back to the kayak shop. When we docked, my feet kissed the ground, and we waddled next door to a bar, guzzling beer and recounting the kayak misadventure.
Turns out, we all had different versions of the story. My glass-half-full friend saw the afternoon as a mostly positive experience and giddily described the ride as a metaphor for life. She saw strength, discipline, and humor. My husband simply took it as a matter-of-fact lesson for amateurs to pay the extra bucks for a experienced tour guide. I, however, saw my own weakness, emotional instability, and dependence on my husband.
Why would I want to spin my story that way?
How we tell our stories to ourselves and others is so important. We are responsible for our own spin. Our stories bind us together with everyone around us, creating the framework both for how we treat ourselves and how we want to be treated by others.
With that said, I’m rewriting my kayak story. It starts like this: Once upon a time, there was a girl who took on nature, battled her heart out, and walked on water. Spin that.