Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

June 21, 2011

The River Always Moves

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:50 pm

A few weeks ago I was on vacation and a friend of mine wanted to take the canoe out in the beautiful morning sun.  I was leery but I went. 

I grew up a swimmer.  I qualified for my lifeguard license when I was nine.  I got up the first time I ever water skied.  I spent endless childhood summers pool hopping and lake diving and river rafting. 

But since my childhood, things have changed.  I was once pulled by an undercurrent along the bottom of the ocean.  I was snorkeling and saw real sharks.   I was swimming next to  a kid who was stung by jellyfish.   I have seen JAWS.  Ha. 

And since my brain injury, my balance does not work like it used to.  

So, you get me out into a canoe and nobody’s going to confuse me for a savvy, graceful, crafty boatswoman any longer.  Remember that movie when we were kids about the Indian paddling in the canoe, silent and still and upright and beautiful?  Not me.  Not to be confused with me…

I was tipping and tilting and freaking out and unable to steady myself.  On the verge of panic.  I was fearing sharks and slipping under the surface into the cold, deep, dark undercurrent of death.

OK, we were in less than three feet of water, wearing life jackets, in a tiny freshwater lake.

But all I wanted to do was get back on land.  Get back to safety.  Ten minutes out in the water felt like three hours.  I about ran onto shore.  Gasping and sweating, friend laughing, sunglasses all skewed and screwed sideways on my head, hair all crazy kind of ways…

OK, so let me see a show of hands.  How many of you, until this moment, had forgotten all about the massive earthquake and Tsunami in Japan?  Come on!  Let’s see those hands.   When was the last time you thought about the failing nuclear reactors and the piles of cars floating down what used to be their roads?  How long has it been since you read coverage on all those people who were displaced from their homes and who lost loved ones in that disaster?

The River Always Moves.

The devastating events which ripped Japan to its core have been replaced.   People moved on to the LeBron NBA Finals debacle (tee hee) and the Weiner Weiner debacle.   They’ve seen the footage of  the Joplin tornado wreckage.  And, closer to home, there have been high school graduations and graduation parties.  June weddings and baby showers.   Yard work, uncovering the pools, going to garage sales.  It’s baseball season and beach season and the Fourth of July is just around the corner.

The River Always Moves.

We have two choices in life.   We can sit on the bank and watch the water move.  Watch life move.  Or we can jump in and move along with it.  Simple as that.

When something happens that turns your life upside down, it’s so hard to remain in the current.   To move along with everyone else.   You want to just make it to the side and crawl out of the water and shake yourself off and dry warmly in the sun.

Everyone has to come out of the water sometime or their fingers will prune.  They need to warm up, dry off, nourish themselves.  Get their bearings.  Check the map. 

But many of us refuse to ever get back into the water.   Paralyzed on the bank.  Maybe the water seems to be moving faster than before.  Maybe there are more rapids than they recall.   But, all of a sudden, they don’t want to get back in that current.  And the current continues to roll past.

How long should we stay out of the water?  My mom used to say two hours after we’d eaten.  Is that a good measure?   Who decides when it’s time to rejoin everyone else?

Today I’m going to do some writing.  I’m going to help a friend pack up her apartment.  I’m going to make another spinach salad, my new addiction.  Later I’ll watch White Collar and Covert Affairs before the Tigers’ game comes on late from the West Coast.  I have to pick up a few things from the store.  Figure out when I’m going to the post office.  Low on clean towels.  Low on toothpaste.   Cat sleeping on my neck.  Need to pick up birthday cards…

The River Always Moves.

Life Goes On.

There’s a million families somewhere in Japan still homeless.  Still seeking their new normal.   There are families all along the Mississippi who have been told to pack up and move away for two months until the river rises and falls again.   There are families in Arizona watching the wind speeds, wondering if their house is safe for another day from the raging wild fires.   Families in Joplin still finding family photos miles away from where their homes once stood.

But what consumes us as a world, as a nation, as a community, as a family, as a human being…all continues to fade in our mind’s rearview.  Paddling down the river of life, we cannot continue to lament, over and over, the tree we scraped by or the deep hole we almost slipped into when there are promised so many more of them ahead. 

We have to look forward.   We have to take what’s coming.   We either have to let go of what’s happened or get out of the water so we can review, report, regroup and release.

Sometimes it’s just too big.  Too much.  Too heavy, too terrifying, too wrenching, too painful.   We just don’t want to get back in the water, dammit!

So we sit on the banks and we watch the water go by.  Watch everyone go by.  Watch our lives go by.  People we love.  Leaving us.  Leaving us behind.

Only we can decide when it’s time.  Only we can decide when we, again, feel the call.  The urge.  The pull.  The need to rejoin our lives.   It takes courage, yes.  Encouragement, surely.   It takes a leap of faith.  Faith in something.

I was terrified out on that canoe a few weeks ago.   But as we paddled out around this tiny little peninsula, I saw a species of beautiful purple lily pads that I had never seen before.  I saw a gorgeous three foot tall bird (wren?) descend low and steady and land perfectly in the water.  I saw the sun peek through the leaves and spray the lake with golden splashes.   And I saw a mommy duck taking her kids out to Sunday brunch in a single file line along the water’s edge. 

Yes, everyone has to dry off and recover and get warm and dry from time to time.  Everyone has to get food in their bodies.  Feel the sun’s warmth deep in their bones.  Gather themselves after what they’ve been through.  Gather themselves for the journey ahead. 

But make no mistake, there IS a journey ahead.  It is patient like grief.  It waits for us.

We’ll all learn along the way.   Maybe we’ll put life jackets on.  Get a bigger boat.  Bring more supplies.  A better compass.   A better map.   Room for people who can help us navigate.  People who have steered this stretch before us.

But the river always moves and so, too, must we.  All of us need water to survive. 

Come on in.   The water’s warm.  🙂

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8 Comments »

  1. Your writing is magical Kara. You show your strength and empathy in each word. Deborah

    Comment by Deborah Johnson — June 21, 2011 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the kind words, Deborah

      Comment by karaswanson — June 22, 2011 @ 12:09 am | Reply

  2. Beautifully written Kara…well thought out. I would like to take this to my TBI group if I may. I think they would love it and find it really useful .. I will point them in the direction of your blog of course, but not everyone has access to the web.
    Cxx

    Comment by Christa — June 22, 2011 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

  3. You’re always welcome to take this stuff, Christa. Thanks for asking. I hope it helps them. 🙂

    Comment by karaswanson — June 22, 2011 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  4. Laughing here, you guys. I googled wren and it’s three inches long. LOL. It wasn’t a wren I saw. God only knows what that thing was. Standing a good three feet tall with long long thin legs. Does anyone know what it could have been?

    Comment by karaswanson — June 22, 2011 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

    • heron or egret?

      Comment by Cheryl — June 25, 2011 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

  5. Also, thank you Kara for the encouragement to get back into the canoe and paddle while reminding us we’ll do it at our own pace and stop to refresh along the way when we need to. People like to lecture me to jump in, head first, now! I have lately come to greatly enjoy the notion that the brain injury slowed me down, not destroyed my life. So the idea that I should dive back in head first and swim in exactly the direction I was swimming before would force me to forget or ignore the trials of the past year and the lessons learned. It’s the same body of water, but now I can see different parts of it, and I have learned different ways of swimming…or lying on my back and floating instead of fighting the current to prove what a strong swimmer I am. It’s nice to have encouragement to get in the canoe, panic, dry off, and then get back in. It’s realistic. Baby paddles, right?

    Comment by Cheryl — June 25, 2011 @ 12:15 pm | Reply

    • I love your comments, Cheryl. Love the visual of floating on our backs. Smiling big smiles here. You have nailed it. Yes, this time is different and you don’t have to swim like before, proving what a strong swimmer you are. Just battling this injury like you have has proven that time and again. Well done!!!!!

      Comment by karaswanson — June 25, 2011 @ 1:30 pm | Reply


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