Some people are content to float downstream, happy to “go with the flow,” accepting wherever it takes them. I sometimes I wish I could be like that. For better or worse, I tend to paddle upstream, fighting my way toward some nearly-impossible goal, sometimes hurting myself or others in the process. I don’t doubt that my sense of purpose and perseverance takes me far, but it also lands me in a heap of trouble.
When I left for Paris during college, my dad warned me to pack light and take a taxi from the airport. I packed heavy and got off the airplane ready to try my hand at public transportation in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers speaking a language I had not mastered. Right…you can guess how that ended. I reached my destination safely, but with no small loss of blood, sweat and tears. Once I got some “free mulch” from a neighbor, and all I had to do was go get it. It seemed so easy at the outset—but the shovel and wheelbarrow weren’t getting the job done fast enough. So I used my minivan as a truck and loaded up the back. Six hours later and with a terrible mess in the back of my mom-car, I finished what I had started. But that mulch was decidedly not free. And Jay ended up cleaning up my mess.
Today I set out in the kayak to explore in Sister’s Creek. It was a bit blustery, and I lost my kayak partner to a mysterious rash. So I went alone, and after twenty minutes of fighting, I finally got into still water and had a moment to breathe and think about what I was doing. I realized that the way I approach kayaking is a great illustration for life. Sometimes paddling upstream has paid off beautifully—in the Bahamas, my fearless crew and I fought hard to get past the pull of the tide to find the blue hole in the Bight of Old Robinson, and after our explore, we simply drifted back the way we had come earlier, over upside-down jellyfish beds and shallow coral reefs—the breathtaking beauty and relaxation well worth the hard work. Other times, I have fought a hard battle against the pull of water and wind for very little reward. I should have turned the kayak around early on and admitted that we weren’t having fun. I mean, isn’t that what it was for to begin with?
Once I get that tunnel-vision about a project or a relationship, I seem to lose sight of what the thing was for. In my rush upstream, I leave all caution behind and my wake is littered with misery and madness. As I contemplate the year’s end and make goals for the next one, I realize I learned a lesson in my kayak this morning. Once I reached the still water, I decided I didn’t want to fight anymore, and turned around to head for home, wind and waves at my back. I think I’m coming to a place in my life where I don’t need to try so hard, but to rest and trust more. I see this in my relationships with my children especially. As they get older, a heavy hand can crush the relationship it was trying to create. It might be time to turn that kayak around and enjoy a downwind run.