Saturday, January 25, 2014

THE RIVER, Part Five

We rowed on—or rather, Jim rowed.

The instant ice pack gradually lost its effectiveness, and with no real ice to replace it, the burning and throbbing in my leg increased. I was glad Jim was doing the rowing.

It occurred to me some weed might ease the pain. I lit a joint and passed it to Jim. He stopped rowing long enough to take a few hits, then passed the joint back to me and resumed rowing.

I finished the joint. The weed distanced me from the pain, and for the first time since the accident I began to relax, gazing at the oak and mesquite-lined banks and cedar-spotted hills beyond, all mirrored on the river's flowing surface. I was at peace—

Then the canoe wobbled. My heart jumped. I braced myself for another spill ... but it didn’t happen.

I tried to relax again, but couldn't. In the aftermath of the accident, the river no longer seemed so benign; it was no longer simply the life-giver, but also the life-taker. The Arms of God are not always kind, I realized.

And yet, the river was so beautiful, more beautiful somehow knowing this truth—that it can do both, give or take life, as it chooses. And in my slow-motion motion struggle with the canoe, it had done both at once; taken me to the edge of the abyss, then brought me back.

I had come to the river, still reeling from the shock of my divorce some months earlier, a broken man in his late 40s feeling dead inside and hopeless, and now I felt more alive than I had felt in a long time …

“You know what happened back there, don't you,” I said to Jim.

“What do you mean?”

“Back at that whirlpool—what happened.”

“We nearly died.”

“Yeah, nearly died, but didn't. We got our lives back, man. We were reborn.”

“Yeah,” said Jim, “I guess you could look at it that way.”

“It was a baptism,” I went on, “a full-immersion baptism, hard-core Baptist style. Only it wasn't done by a preacher, it was done by God Himself … the Arms of God.”

“Los Brazos de Dios.”

“Yes. We were baptized by the Arms of God.”

Jim chuckled. “I like that. Baptized by the Arms of God ...”

And he started singing the words as he rowed. He always had an ear for a good song, Jim did.

I remembered the mushrooms. We had planned to eat them that night after finding a campsite, but our plans had changed; we wouldn't be camping. It followed, then, that now was the right time, while the memory of my brush with death was fresh and I was close to God.

“Let’s do the mushrooms,” I said.

Jim was agreeable, so I got them out. Jim only wanted a couple. I ate a fistful and waited for them to take effect as we glided down the river through the lengthening tree shadows ...

(To be continued ...)