I wish to issue a disclaimer. It should be clearly understood before we go any further, that until the event under discussion today, this flatlander had never piloted even so much as a rowboat in the dry, level territory at the southern tip of Texas where he was reared. That said, it could be my fault, so I’ll just give the facts and let the reader decide.
My pastor had the bright idea. “Wouldn’t it be great to have a father/son outing?” he asked one otherwise fine spring day. “Let’s go on a float trip down the river!” The river he was referring to was the Buffalo, our nation’s first river designated as a National Waterway. It is a beautiful, scenic stretch of water, moving unfettered by dams or any man-made obstacles for the 135 miles it wends its way through the beautiful Ozarks of Arkansas. Turns out, it might have been nice if there were something to slow it down a little bit. That’s only from my perspective that beautiful day some 22 years ago. I think my son might agree.
The Park Service’s website for the river says, “Water levels will vary during the year based on rainfall activity.” What they don’t tell you is that the speed of the current varies comparatively; I would say almost exponentially. Again, that’s just my opinion. In the couple of weeks leading up to the outing, the rain came almost daily, raising the depth of the water considerably and increasing the speed of the water by a commensurate amount. The five-almost-six year old boy in the canoe with me didn’t understand the physics, but he did know that he wanted out before the end of the “float” trip. It seems that in our case, “float” was truly descriptive of what we would be doing, only without the canoe under us. Life preservers were worn…and used.
You see, every time the river changed course, the man in the back of the canoe (that was me) would run the wayward boat right into the bank immediately in front of the craft instead of following the path that the waterway took. Twice, the nose of the aluminum vessel stuck in the mud bank, allowing the canoe to overturn in the swift current, both times trapping me and the boy under it for a few anxious seconds before we could struggle free. After the second time of being dunked, the son part of the team asked the father part if he could ride with Pete. Pete, in a canoe by himself, was having no problem at all navigating the difficult waters. A couple of times, he went through the rapids backwards, just to prove he could do it. Shamed by my lack of boating ability, the exchange of the passenger was made and the young boy stayed dry for the balance of the trip. How did I manage? No comment.
I have been very careful to make sure that you understand that none of this was my fault. My excuses? Lack of opportunity, river condition, weather leading up the day… Generally, anything but admitting that I wasn’t up to the task. It seems that this is a common problem with humans in general and men in particular. We don’t find it easy to say, “It’s my fault.” I can find all kinds of reasons for the failure of the boat to stay upright that day, but admitting a deficiency on my part isn’t one of them. You see, I like for my boat rides to be smooth and uneventful. None of this whitewater and sharp turns in the river. Give me a placid lake on a calm afternoon any day. I remembered that nightmare canoe ride and realized again how much I love the calm when a few people came along to rock my boat this afternoon.
Oh, the little ripples aren’t all that bothersome. I navigated my way through refunds and forgotten reeds and even string changes today, with nary a sign of tipping. But, as the afternoon wore on, a few folks who were in the boat with me stood up and demanded attention. I had to change my schedule for them! I had to adjust my evening to achieve what they wanted! As the waves mounted in intensity and velocity, I felt the urge to shout with Nicely Nicely Johnson in “Guys and Dolls”, “Sit down, Sit down, Sit down! You’re rocking the boat!” I find that I like it a whole lot better when people let me do what I want when I want to do it. But, for some reason, they’re always messing things up, asking me to do what they want when they want it done. So, it’s not my fault, but theirs. Well, that’s the way it seems to me most of the time.
I think I’m finally starting to understand something, though. Yes, the boat is mine, but I’ve invited others along to share it. The boat sails on a fast moving, busy waterway, which I agreed to navigate. If I don’t want my boat rocked, I’ll have to find some little, quiet, out of the way pond, with no chance of extra passengers. I’m pretty sure that what I’m describing is the existence of an emotionally withdrawn, selfish human being who has chosen an unhealthy and unsustainable lifestyle, devoid of love and joy and fellowship. It doesn’t seem the kind of place to which our real Pilot would have us guide our craft.
Again and again, I’m realizing that I kind of like the boat I’m in. I even enjoy the company in the boat. They come in all shapes, from kids both short and tall who show varying amounts of respect for the captain of the ship, to adults of different sizes and ethnic groups and social backgrounds (who also show varying amounts of respect). Some of them rock the boat, some of them help to steady it. I’m working at learning how to keep the little vessel on an even keel, frequently now avoiding many of the snags that used to upset the craft. It is a work in progress, but the shoreline is slipping past and the goal is closer than it once was.
If you do decide to take a little ride in the boat with me, try to keep seated though. There are already enough people rocking it for me. Oh, you might want to wear your life jacket, too.
“Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm”
(Publilius Syrus~Roman author~first century B.C.)
“God promises a safe landing, but not a calm passage.”