On the Monday before Halloween, I set off on a road trip with my truck and trailer and little doggie Layla. As we were crossing the Navajo Nation, I hit a very rough spot on the road. The trailer began bouncing, fish-tailing, and at times jack-knifing.
I fought very hard to keep us on the road because there was a very steep 50-60’ drop on the left. Finally we slowed down, but we were headed toward the drop. I jammed on the brakes and slowly both the truck and the trailer tipped over on their right side, sliding to a stop just 10 feet from the cliff. Neither Layla nor I were hurt—my seat belt held me securely and she was clipped in her car seat. But I was grateful to realize it was not my time to die.
My dear friend Barbara is an experienced white water river guide. Hearing about her harrowing accident reminded me of the two-day trip our women’s group took down the south fork of the American River, a gift from Barbara.
As we approached our first set of rapids, I vividly remember looking over my shoulder at the thrilling vision of Barbara, standing aft, commanding the guide paddle, her wild, curly grey hair framing her determined gaze, shouting to us that it was now time to “Take the river.” And that is what we did for the next 48 hours.
I suggested to Barbara that no doubt her experience as a river-runner helped her keep a cool head as her rig jack-knifed and barely missed going over the cliff. “I did remember during the violence not to give up, to just stay with it, which is necessary when trouble comes on the river,” she agreed.
Those wise words are appropriate for many situations we face today, both personally and globally. When trouble comes—and it always does—it’s good counsel to imagine ourselves on the other side of the difficulty, and to not give up.
It reminds me of the time I participated in a ropes course. We had to cross a rapidly running river using only a single rope as a bridge. Two smaller ropes about hip-high on either side were loosely tied into the larger rope at widely spaced intervals. These smaller ropes provided only the smallest hint of stability; they would not hold you up in any way if you leaned into them.
When I got about 10 feet out from the shore I looked down at the roiling river beneath me and became dizzy, losing my concentration, my confidence, and my balance. The young guide on the other side called to me. “Don’t look down,” he said, “Look at me. This is where you want to end up.”
Those words made all the difference. Instinctively I went into a crouch to lower my center of gravity, and looking toward the spot where I wanted to safely end up, I regained my balance and successfully crossed the river.
Many years later it is a lesson I continue to feel in my body. The learning not only involved my head—it lives in my legs, my gut, and my whole body. This memory reminds me how easy it is to get mesmerized by the difficulties, and forget the destination and conversely how everything can change when I put my attention on my destination.
Take a moment to remember a time when you successfully negotiated the “rapids” in your life. Your body continues to hold the thrill of that success. Recall how it felt in your body. As you tap into that awareness remember the destination you want to reach. Let that engagement with a past success carry you across your current river of difficulty.
By Justine Willis Toms