Ever since I bought a kayak five summers ago, my paddling has been limited to the river that runs in front of our house. For the second year in a row, I haven’t gone on the river much because of the massive PCB dredging project that generates significant barge and boat traffic in our area. I also don’t relish the idea of kayaking when PCBs may be resuspended in the water. But we don’t have a kayak rack for our vehicles, so our kayaks stayed put, and I took precautions to protect myself from the environmental toxins.
My ex-husband recently moved to a fabulous home on a nearby creek and granted me kayaking privileges. Naturally, I took him up on his generous offer to use kayaks that already were there!
I brought my husband to the creek the first time I went, and I’m so glad he came with me. I wanted to paddle vigorously for exercise, but he wanted to slow down and take it all in. Sometimes I went ahead – but sometimes slowing down makes all the difference!
There was so much wildlife along the creek, including large fish splashing and more great blue herons than I ever could have imagined! It was like a heron paradise!
After paddling for a while, we saw a group of several kayakers up ahead of us in the distance. We noticed that their paddles were moving, but they weren’t going anywhere. I assumed it was some kind of paddling class, and perhaps they were practicing paddling in the air (which doesn’t make any sense, come to think of it) – for they were next to a large dock. It was a perplexing sight. My husband and I joked that maybe they’re stuck, and if we kept going, perhaps we’d get stuck, too. It was quite odd. But we kept paddling in their direction, and eventually it seemed the kayakers were moving along.
That’s when my husband spotted an old man standing outside of a rustic building along the creek. We paddled closer, and the man called out to greet us and ask where we are from. He told us he’s 90 years old and went on to talk about his military service during World War II. He told stories about being the lone survivor in his military unit and seeing the atomic bomb explosion at Hiroshima from down below and thinking it was the end of the world. In no time, we realized this man had a real story to tell and some wisdom to share, so we listened closely. He told us that not too long ago, he received a box in the mail that contained beautiful medals from the Pentagon in honor of his courageous acts during wartime. He got teary-eyed as he explained to us that he didn’t think anyone ever knew about all the things he did during the war until he received those medals in the mail. After the war, he built his house along the creek, got married, and raised five children. Also, it turns out he is an artist.
Eventually, my husband inquired, “So, what is your secret to living a long and happy life?”
The man replied, “Live life how you want.” Not how you think you should or how others tell you to, but how you want.
He even gave us a boater’s guide.
Even though I’m sure this man talks to lots of people passing by his homestead on the creek – including, I imagine, that group of kayakers – I needed to hear this advice. If my husband weren’t with me, I wouldn’t have stopped, for I wanted to get exercise. I would have missed hearing the old man’s story and his advice on how to live well. Wisdom often finds you when you slow down, and my husband reminds me of this often. It’s something I truly appreciate about him.
Our conversation with the old man on the creek reminded me of the time we talked with an old farmer when we were out looking for monarch caterpillars. My energy had changed after talking with him. Something important had just transpired, and I paddled away feeling uplifted and inspired. As with the old farmer, my husband and I wished we could have filmed him speaking. But as with the old farmer, I can write about it. I love to write about the lives of old people and the wisdom and perspective they offer.
As we paddled away, I felt more connected to the life around me. My awareness had expanded, and I no longer felt the need to speed up and accomplish a goal (exercise), for I was more in being mode than doing mode. I was drawn to an exquisite water lily resting on a lily pad as if it were floating in a little boat (kind of like I was doing) and stopped to photograph and appreciate it.
Then I took out my phone to record some parts of the conversation I wanted to remember, and the time was 11:11 – a time that has special meaning for me, special energy. (My son was even born on 11-11.) Then two kayakers came along and asked if I knew what time it was – so not only did I notice that it was 11:11, but I also had to say it out loud!
The energy in and around me had shifted as a result of doing something new – exploring a new waterway and talking with a kind stranger – and slowing down and making space for something new and unexpected to enter in. Making space for yes.
While floating in our kayaks on the river in front of our house, my husband and I often talk about how blessed we are with the freedom to step outside and go kayaking whenever we feel like it. However, I realize now that we also are limited by that freedom because, until yesterday, we’d never explored other waterways in all the time we’ve lived on the riverside. There is so much else to see and experience in this world. Limiting ourselves to one (and in this case, highly contaminated) river is not freedom. Even though we appreciate it to the max, it’s still just a small slice of what life has to offer. It’s easy to become so comfortable with our surroundings that we forget there are so many other possibilities that are equally as awesome or even better. And fresh, new energy! I can’t even begin to describe the shift in my energy field that occurred after exploring a new body of water!
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