A few people have asked me whether I have flashbacks of the moment I slipped from the cottage dock, dropped the kayak we were lowering into the water, and fell headlong (or rather hand-long) onto it, badly fracturing my radial head. And I don’t. It was too quick and the details are too hazy to recall, let alone replay. But what I have found myself reliving recently are the beautiful days of lakeside holiday that we had before the week took such a sudden and unexpected turn.
What’s ironic – or perhaps not at all? – is that I had begun the week struggling to relax and enjoy these days of rest, leisure and family time that we all needed so much after some full and tiring months. I don’t think I’m alone (right?!) in longing for the rat race to stop and then, when it does, finding it challenging to actually slow my body and mind enough to enjoy the rest! Instead of all the anticipating, planning and preparing making way for relaxation and enjoyment, I just kept on trying to control, plan and grasp.
For the first day or so I observed myself struggling just to sit and be while also not wanting to do anything, being snappy and impatient with my loves and any demands made on me, or looking out from our waterfront deck at the glistening expanse of island-dotted lake without the leap of gratitude or soul-opening sigh of wonder I was expecting. Then I did what has now rescued me countless times since I began my first journal at eighteen, and sat down for some hours of writing, noticing, processing, wondering, praying, dreaming, asking… In order to rescue me, my journaling has to be ruthlessly honest yet compassionate, both descriptive and speculative, making space for the best and worst of me as well as that intangible touch of something from Beyond and Deep Within. The fruit of these hours on a lounger, a decaf coffee beside me and the whir of hummingbird wings in my ears, was a sense of slowly letting go into my own reality. Yes, I am restless and impatient and controlling. Yes, I am tempted when on holiday to replace true, restorative rest with counterfeit laziness and self-indulgence. But, yes, I have been given the gift of this week and of this family, and I can receive the gift, and give myself wholeheartedly and joyfully in return – to it and to them. Today, remembering, I feel a bit teary and incredibly grateful, that this simple but significant inner shift took place, allowing me to fully enjoy what would turn out to only be half a week of holiday.
The day before my injury is the one I keep on recalling and reliving. In the morning, fueled by newfound perspective, I suggested Amelie and I kayak to a little sandy beach just around the point from the cottage we rent, and go swimming. It was sunny and breezy as we meandered along the shore looking at the cottages, including a new one just being built in the woods, and then ran our kayaks onto the small curve of white sand. The day before, the three of us had canoed over to our other favourite place to swim – a leafy island with a big rock to picnic on and jump off – but today we were happy to be able to slowly wade into the clear, cool water on a sandy bed. When we realized we’d forgotten the swimming noodle (aka a woggle for any Brits!) to complete the new mesh seat Amelie had been looking forward to floating in, I left her sitting on the beach and paddled back around the point to fetch it, enjoying the strain of my muscles against water and wind, and the exertion of energy on her behalf, which was its own reward.
Back at the beach, she began floating while I began my habitual inching into the colder-than-I’d-like lake, the fact that I always love it once I’m in somehow not enough to make me enter the water any more quickly! Finally submerged, I noticed a fluffy brown baby loon and its parent some ways out in the cove and decided to swim towards them. I was only expecting to get a little closer and see a little more clearly, but instead the adult loon started up a warning cry and dove into the water, swimming so close-by that I saw its graceful, surging body underwater. It resurfaced just feet from me, near enough to see its intricate black and white markings and uncanny red eyes. I trod water as the loon circled me, and it was a wild and magical moment – my body suspended in the cold wet, my feet hanging in dark lake depths, my ears filled with urgent cries and my heart with wonder. Later that same day, lying on the deck in mottled sunshine, relishing the perfect temperature of my drowsy body, an eagle soared right above my head and my heart soared with it. More than all the happenings I can plan and execute and attempt to control, the unforeseen, uncultivated moments are the ones that nourish and sustain me.
And yet I would not have wanted the next day’s unforeseen, uncultivated moment of slip, tumble and fracture, and I struggle to describe it as nourishing despite all I am already learning and will no doubt continue to learn. With a now-bionic left arm and elbow that cannot yet bend beyond ninety degrees, the wonderful corporeal ease of those two wild moments at the lake seems eons ago, even though it’s only coming up for four weeks. I am likely reliving them partly in an attempt to escape the constant discomfort and hard work of recovery, and because the taken-for-granted physical strength and freedom that allowed me to kayak and swim now seem like miraculous gifts that I dream of and desperately hope I can regain. But I also find myself wondering if the memories hold an invitation for me.
So here’s what I’m wondering: Can I further let go into THIS present reality, as I did through my journaling at the lake? Will I fully allow this particular unforeseen event – though neither blissful nor particularly welcome – to bring me face to face once again with my own fragility and dependence, my futile grasping for control, and my impatience, and perhaps even past them to something far better? Perhaps this experience can reveal the sources I usually rely on for strength, joy and peace, inviting me to dig deeper, to draw from deeper wells. Perhaps the uncultivated moment can cultivate patience, perseverance, hope… Maybe it’s possible for me to eventually feel nourished and sustained by this. I hope so. Unlike my process that week, letting go into this experience seems to necessitate a healthy balance of grieving and accepting; and the prolonged nature of rehabilitation means that parallel inner work is going to need to be more profound and ongoing too. I feel like a total beginner in this. I’m very aware of many I know, and countless I don’t in these troubled days, who live with physical pain and limitations far beyond mine and who humble me with their ability to live joyful, loving lives in the midst of it all. But that is their journey and this is mine – small though it may be – and one I can only make day by day, moment by moment.
Photo Credit (of the fateful dock at Skiff Lake!): Mike Temple