You're never going to kill storytelling, because it's built into the human plan. We come with it.
As I write this, Juan and I are at 30,000 feet flying somewhere over Montana, headed home to St. Louis. With each mile we speed further away from Oregon and the lovely family reunion of the past six days. Images of family and campfires and golfing and river rafting and horseback riding float randomly through my mind. But the scenes and characters I think of most often are those from Saturday night's beautiful wedding — witnessed and celebrated by old and new family connections — in loving images.
We stitched a few new threads into our family fabric. Like a whirling spinning wheel where multiple, colorful threads knit together - we used stories to form our fabric: Brand new adventures that will become the next reunion's recollections. Older narratives that stretched into tall tales in the retelling. And familiar favorites to laugh over, especially of family now passed, so that in those moments they fondly live again.
Since my mission in this blog is to tell stories of persistence through challenges and how this connects to what matters and each other - it was a good week to practice and collect.
In this spirit, here’s a true story I told this past week from the summer of 1980 about an unexpected encounter.
Icy, jarring, the sudden blast whips away breath and I am dumbly gasping.
“Forward!” His voice screams. “On the left, DIG IN!”
My paddle swings out and plunges down. Head down, vision narrowed. Only the bright orange triangle corner of the life vest is visible in front of me.
“All now! Forward! Forward! Forward!” Above the crash and roar of the rapids, his voice rallies us. Urgent, commanding.
I focus on the paddle in front of me and match its movement. Forward, down, back, lift. We move in tandem. Forward, down, back, lift. The white water swirls and a grey mass of rock flashes by. Forward, down, back, lift. The water strains against the paddle’s pressure. Forward, down, back, lift. Suddenly, we careen downward, sliding and lurching toward the white and roar. “Pull! Pull! Pull!’ our guide screams. A sudden jolt loosens the foot I’ve wedged alongside the raft’s gunwales, anchoring me on to the raft. “Pull! Pull!” we scream at each other. The water strains against my forearms, resists my biceps. I re-wedge my foot.
Oh! A slam against a rock sends us spinning, and a fan of white ice water splashes over us. I gasp at the shock. “On the right, dig in!” our guide screams. “Dig in!” I scream at the others now and laugh. We are laughing, shaking. “Dig, DIG!”
This water is not the friendly summer current of a lackadaisical midwestern river where I’ve slumped in inner tubes and floated, gliding and bumping around the occasional rock. No, this river, this Colorado River, takes the business of heading south as a big, noisy, messy charge. Water flings its arms wide. Eddies grab and whirlpool. And if we choose to ride her for a while, then we hop on at our own risk. This current carries the ice of its snowcapped mother and its baptism literally takes one's breath away.
“Okay, stop, STOP. You can rest.” Behind us our river guide’s voice quiets. “Relax while you can.”
The roar of rushing water recedes here. We have pushed through a first set of rapids and have a respite before the next set begins. I am visiting my (then) boyfriend. He is working in Colorado for the summer and I’ve flown west to visit. It was his idea to go on this whitewater rafting trip.
We glance around our front half of the raft. The polite distance of strangers we’d started with — climbing tentatively into the raft, stepping carefully over its seats — has vanished. We have fallen on each other. Yanked each other back from the boat’s edge. Screamed and yelled and cursed each other. Now we grin stupidly, the shared experience of survival and teamwork sealing a sudden bond.
“I’m Sam,” says the bearded man sitting opposite me, “And this is my son, John.” he nods toward the young teen sitting in front of him. “I’m Paul,” says a 30-something man in front of the teenager. “Margo,” a pony-tailed woman across from him says.
“I’m Mark,” said my boyfriend, “And I’m Joan,” I finish the circle. Our eyes flick around at each other’s faces, smiling under our dripping water helmets. Already the sun’s hot warmth has dried our arms and vests. The raft floats swiftly. For the moment we can look up and around.
“You look like a college student,” Sam says to Mark, sitting in front of me.
“I am. I go to a college in Illinois, Principia College,”
“Principia! Do you know Jack Snyder?”
Surprised, I interrupt, “Jack Snyder? That’s my dad!”
“I’m your cousin!”
Right there, in the middle of that Colorado River, a little unexpected family reunion.
(Nope, I didn't elevate this to a tall tale. It really happened!)
Steps I’m taking to explore writing a book
Books I'm reading: With all of this air travel I was able to finish Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It’s been at least 20 years since I read it last so this time had a highlighter near by to catch sentences or ideas as I made a deeper read. What a role model Atwood is for me of establishing such a deep and unsettlingly believable setting for her story. Atwood’s observations about a dystopia society are sharp. Here’s an example, “We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work on it.” The book is literature of witness; a story recorded by the main character with the hope that it will be read in the future. A new idea to me to consider for the book I'll write.
Research tool: Thank you for the responses and ideas on good note-taking tools for capturing research information I asked for last week. “Evernote” was the most popular software answer. I have it and do like it. My goal is to complete transferring my notes by the end of August.
Juan and I are passing over Omaha, Nebraska, now and will begin our descent toward St. Louis in about 20 minutes. Before we land let me add one final note from Atwood:
Every recorded story implies a future reader.
Perhaps this week you'll record one?