Robb and I went on a whitewater rafting trip when we had been married for a year or so. We camped with probably a dozen other couples, and we all donned our lifejackets and hit the rapids the next day.
I remember feeling that combination of afraid and excited and incredulous and brave and what are we thinking, but so ready to do this because it was on our collective bucket list.
We listened so carefully to the guide, listening to his advice on how to handle the greatest fear.
“If you get knocked out of the boat, don’t try to fight the current. Don’t try to stand, swim against the current, or even swim to a bank on the side. Just pick up your knees and let the water carry you. It’s stronger than you, bigger than you, and it’s going to do what it’s going to do. If you fight it, you’re only wasting your energy and causing a greater risk to yourself. So pick up your knees, float on your back, and wait to see where the river takes you. It’s the safest thing you can do, and I promise we will come find you, wherever you land.”
I don’t recall that I needed to heed his advice, particularly because the water level was record low that summer, and for even part of the rafting trip, the four of us got out of the raft and carried it across the emerged rocks in the middle of the river.
But his words found their way into my subconscious, only emerging today, so many years later.
I woke up this morning with the stiff tenderness of knowing it is December 23. My body knows the date long before I look at a calendar. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could pay no attention to the date and my physiology would still respond on the day of remembering.
The 22nd is annually more difficult than the 23rd, though neither day is one for cartoons and lemonade.
The 22nd is the day when everything was okay, good, healthy, and right with my world. And I just want to swoop into that happy scene and scoop everyone up before lightning strikes.
By the time I wake up on the 23rd, the moment of crisis has passed. He had already been pronounced. His life ended before the sun came up. It’s one small gift in the whole tragedy of it all: I don’t have to count the hours and watch the clock, count the seconds and listen to the tick-tocks of the end.
I woke up this morning, sure enough, three hours after the moment I can still picture and hear and revisit if I want to. Or if I don’t want to.
I had carefully planned this day, calling in reinforcements to give my kids a super-fun day and providing myself with acres of margin. And as I started the day, I went through my list of possibilities.
I could go to Starbucks.
I should write. For fun and for deadlines.
I need to clean the kitchen.
I have more wrapping to do.
Gifts for my dad.
But I couldn’t string two thoughts together. It took my greatest concentration to get myself home after dropping the boys off for their day. Everything in me begged for rest.
I climbed back into bed, feeling like a failure for not pushing through and getting myself out of bed and out of the house. I’ll just sleep for an hour, I told myself. Just for an hour. Or two. Or just a little bit longer.
I slept until 3:00 pm.
Just as the guide had said – When you’re knocked out of the boat, don’t fight what is stronger than you. Lift your knees, surrender to the current, and let it carry you until it sets you down.
At 3:00, after sleeping the very day away, I was just very suddenly finished. I got dressed, from boots to lip gloss and a great pashmina, and I smiled at my cute self in the mirror.
Sometimes you’ve got to pretty yourself up just for you. Even if nobody else will see you to swoon.
You’ll know that you rode the current and landed safely. With lip gloss, no less.