October 18, 2006

The River

2006 1529 page31 capou’re not going?” Joel asked in apparent exasperation.
 My husband, Roy, and I had come to Tennessee to visit our friends Joel and Cinda. After we arrived that Saturday evening, Joel said casually, “Tomorrow I thought we could go tubing down the river.” That sounded fine to me. Thoughts came back to me of when Roy and I canoed down the Potomac River with friends. The river was calm, and we floated serenely along, talking and catching up on our lives.
When we arrived at the outfitters, we were asked to choose our life jackets and sign a form. The form read: “I am aware and understand that participating in this activity involves a potential risk of injury, which includes head injury on the white water rapids and possible death.” What happened to the serene float down the river?
2006 1529 page31At this point Roy knew that I meant business. I was not going down that river.
“Come on, Bonita.”
“Nope. I’m not going.”
“I promise I’ll stay right beside you.”
Well, the thought of going down the river was more bearable knowing I wouldn’t be left to die by myself. Plus, Roy is a better swimmer than I am. After some thought I said, “OK. But you have to stay right beside me.”
As we boarded the bus that drove us along the river’s edge to the drop-off site, I eyed the river. I then overheard a couple talking. “Go with the current,” one said, “and don’t fight it. Relax and let it carry you, or it will pull you under.”
As we dragged our tubes to the river’s edge and placed them in the cold water, I couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous of those people who appeared to be so at ease with the river. They floated along, laughing, and having a good time. Except one. While the others’ body language spoke of relaxation and ease, hers spoke of anxiety and fear. I wanted to speak to her, to let her know that she wasn’t alone—that I was afraid, too. But the first rapid was fast approaching.
Fortunately, I remembered the advice I had overheard. So I took a deep breath and let the current just take me. As I rolled over the first rapid, the effortlessness in which I did so took me by surprise. However, my heart sank as I saw that the girl who was anxious and fearful tried to fight the current, and it pulled her under.
The success of crossing that first rapid put me a little more at ease. I found myself thinking, My, we’re moving pretty slowly. When I looked down into the water, however, the current underneath the surface was running quite swiftly.
I actually began to look forward to the currents. I even let go of Roy’s tube.
We came to what appeared to be a long stretch of river that had no rapids. With the sun glistening off the calm ripples of the Hiwassee, I unhooked from Roy and settled back on my tube to absorb the experience.
That long stretch of serene river lasted about two minutes. My thoughts were interrupted by Roy’s earnest voice yelling, “Bonita, paddle to your left!”
As I sat up and looked ahead, I realized I was caught in a current that was swiftly taking me straight for a tree.
I paddled fast and furiously, but my strength was nothing compared to the force of the current. My tube was ripped from me, I was thrown into the tree, and my legs were wrapping its roots.
Within seconds, Roy was there. He stood right beside the tree, his legs struggling to stay planted on the slippery rocks and to resist the strong current. He held his tube for me while I freed myself from the tree. He then recovered my runaway tube. Needless to say, I was awake the rest of the trip.
As we approached a bend in the river, we saw a couple with their children wading near the shore.
I called out to them, “How much longer until we reach the end?” They answered, “It’s right around the next bend.” Spontaneously, I reached my arms high up into the air and let out a whooping, “Praise the Lord!”
Almost home! And with Jesus right beside us, we, too, will make it.
Bonita Joyner Shields is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.