Kelli and I met in college, both following our love of words and stringing them together. Over those years, and the ones since, she we have read all sorts of each others' words. Once, she spent hours explaining the correct terminology for coffee-making to me so that I could write a story about a barista. She is a gem and a wonderful writer. I am delighted to share this thought provoking story of hers with you today.
I first tried stand-up paddle boarding a few years ago. Two friends and I were on a road trip, and instead of coming up with an itinerary, each day we would check Groupon for Event and Activity deals in our current city. In Boston, we took a guided Segway tour of the harbor. Somewhere near Cape Cod, we found a deal for paddle boarding. The ocean was glassy that day, and balancing on the board was easier than I expected. I loved it.
I’ve been paddle boarding once since then on a family vacation, but I wanted to do it in Nashville, and I wanted the guy I was seeing here to try it. “It’s summer,” I would say. “We should hike.” “We should Kayak.” Then I saw another Groupon, this one for a place called Float-A-Boat in Wartrace, Tennessee. That was over an hour away, but I didn’t care. I signed us up.
So yesterday we checked the weather, put on our bathing suits, and drove to Wartrace.
In the 70 minutes it took us to get there from Nashville, the clouds got thicker and light rainshowers would start and then stop again before a new song came on the radio. Things didn’t look good, but we’d come too far to turn around.
A woman from Float-A-Boat met us at the water with our boards, life jackets, and paddles. She gave us a few quick tips and a precaution: “Obviously, the wind will be a factor today. You probably want to head for one of those coves.” She got back in her pick-up and drove away.
We started out on our knees. The waves were choppy and a strong wind blew straight toward us. I paddled as hard as I could, but one stroke on the left and the nose of my board would veer right, then a wave would catch me from the side and partly submerge my board for a second. I had to switch the paddle from left to right after every stroke to avoid the waves catching me from the side. It was easier to balance the board when the waves were coming at me straight on, but I had to paddle with all my strength just to make any headway against the wind and the waves trying to push me back toward shore. This was nothing like the two times I’d tried paddle boarding before. I was having trouble balancing even on my knees; standing up was not an option.
In my concentration, I lost sight of Elliott and when I looked again he was 20 yards away. I could tell from a distance that he was struggling too. I kept going and fought my way halfway across the open water toward a cove. The next time I checked, he was still behind me and turned around facing the dock we had just come from. I tried to shout out some pointers– “Keep your paddle close to the side of the board”; “Make sure you face it the right way so it’s cupping the water”– but he could barely hear me over the wind. He seemed to be going in circles. Oh no, I thought. He’s not having fun.
Sometimes I forget to be happy about the big things because I focus too much on the little things. I’m healthy. I have a place to live and a family. I’m a teacher on summer vacation. But I don’t feel like shampooing my hair today and I didn’t yesterday either and I don’t want to open my mail.
Living in Nashville, I go to concerts now and then. In retrospect, it always seems like a good time. When they play the one song I know and they get to the chorus, I sing along and I’m happy. But for most of the moments I’m thinking My feet hurt, and This air conditioning is too cold, and I can’t wait to sit down and be warm and maybe eat a cookie.
There’s this one Elbow song I only listen to occasionally because I don’t want to wear it out. To me it feels epic, and I’m afraid of making it commonplace or getting sick of it. I don’t want to ruin it like I once did Wheat Thins by eating a whole box on a junior high youth group trip. The song is attached to a blurry memory of driving down rural roads in Indiana on a day when everything was gold.
I burned a CD for a guy I was dating once with that song on it, and I gave him rules for it. You can’t listen to it too often, and only on a sunny day with the windows down and the sunroof open when you’re really, truly happy. He didn’t seem to get it. I tried to explain that we were keeping the song epic. “People overuse the word epic,” he said. “I hate that.”
Over time, the song has lost some of its luster for me anyway. I wanted it to recreate an experience every time I heard it, but you can’t manufacture those moments.
I just finished reading the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. She writes about her search for blessings in the midst of the ordinary. She discovers the word Eucharisteo (Thanksgiving) from the root words Charis (Grace) and Chara (Joy). And then– I remember this part– she is writing poetically about the wonder of a bubble of soap, because everything is grace; it is a gift. Gratitude is the key to joy, and it is a discipline, finding eucharisteo in the day-to-day, and I am learning it too.
We were only 45 minutes into our so far not fun paddle boarding experience and the rental was for 4 hours, so giving up didn’t seem like it was yet an option. Elliott and I didn’t talk to each other or try to stay close; we each focused on getting to the cove. I fought the waves and fought to keep my board straight. The muscles in my legs already hurt.
And then I realized I wasn’t fighting the waves anymore. They had calmed enough that I was able to stand, though my legs were shaky. Either the wind had changed or we had come far enough across the lake that the waves were carrying us in the direction we wanted to go. I realized I could give my arms a rest from paddling and, instead of losing ground, I would be carried in the direction I wanted to go. The nose of my board still wanted to turn, but I surrendered to a current and let it turn me around. I stood there holding my paddle, letting the water take me backward into the cove. I drifted and Elliott did too, finally at ease and enjoying the beautiful view, even though it was of the lake we had just crossed and not of the cove we were drifting into.
We floated backward like this for a few minutes before it dawned on either of us. The water naturally wanted to take our boards this way. Perhaps we had been standing facing the back of our boards the whole time? I dropped to my knees and did a 180. I stood again and drifted, facing ahead, then tried paddling this way. Everything was easier.
An hour later, we stopped at a small boat ramp where some kids were swimming and fishing and pulled our boards onto shore so we could rest and swim. I examined the bottom of mine. Sure enough, there were two little fins meant to serve as a rudder on what I was now considering the back of my board.
The wind had calmed and that helped too, and we laughed about our mistake for the rest of the afternoon and I’d think to myself, I can’t believe I didn’t notice that. I was backwards that whole time.
The whole time, I had created my own resistance.
Kelli received her B.A. in English from Taylor University and her M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University. Her hometown is Rockford, Michigan, but she currently works as a high school Writing Center Coordinator in Nashville, Tennessee.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.