Thursday, September 11, 2008

Life Comes At You Fast

You have probably seen those TV commercials with the punch line: “Life comes at you fast.” Maybe you saw the one with the piano falling from several stories up and smashing to pieces on the sidewalk. Or maybe you saw the one where the car was parked but began to roll down the street and then smashed into something. “Life comes at you fast,” says the matter-of-fact commercial voice.

I had a real life “Life comes at you fast” experience a couple of summers ago. It was a lovely July day when The Knight and I decided to test out the Provo River in our little inflatable boat. We had done it once before with Jen’s family in two boats and with Dara & Jeremy in our boat.

So the two of us climbed in and I settled in for a nice leisurely float trip. I had forgotten about the railroad trestle. The one that suddenly appears around a blind S turn in the river. The river races at triple speed through the trestle uprights.

Our boat suddenly picked up speed and smacked into the middle trestle beams, dumping both of us out into the ice cold water. It happened so fast that I was totally unprepared to find myself underwater. Shock. Surprise. Amazement. Bewilderment. I went underwater on the left side of the trestle beams and The Knight floated free on the right side.

I was wearing a life vest. I should have floated to the surface instantly. But I remained completely submerged on the river bed's rocky bottom, pinned there by the ice cold water pounding forcefully and relentlessly down on me. More amazement. I realized I could drown unless I got out of there. Adrenaline. Fight and Flight. My arms and legs began flailing violently to propel myself up and out. In a moment my head was above water and I had a handhold on the trestle structure to keep me safe. I was shaking violently. Life comes at you fast!
On that day life came at me fast twice! We slammed into the second railroad trestle a mile or so further down the river, permanently deflating the boat when a giant spike tore a hole in it.

I have often, since that eventful morning, reflected on my extreme emotional reaction to the experience as it was occurring. First of all, I had not expected to be smacked, dumped, pounded, and potentially drowned. Secondly, I had not expected this flood of irrational thoughts and feelings: What had I done to “deserve” being “treated” this way? The river had inexplicably turned “sinister.” I struggled to regain control. It's silly of me to take this personally, I told myself.

Fortunately, life comes at you fast only intermittently. Although, if it came at you fast every moment of the day, every day of your life, you’d probably become accustomed to surprises, and would quickly learn to respond appropriately in an instant. Thankfully, most of our days are not filled with shocks and surprises. Most days are predictable. As a consequence, when life does come at you fast, unexpectedly, unpredictably, you may be caught unprepared with an appropriate response.

When life comes at me fast in the form of people who are angry or hateful, who seem to want to hurt me with viciousness, I have the same reaction that I had when I was thrown violently against the trestle and then dumped into the ice cold water and forcefully pounded down, and I feared for my survival: Shock. Surprise. Amazement. Bewilderment. Why am I always caught off guard? I shouldn't take their behavior personally even if they intended it to be personal. People are much like I was on the river that day: their aim is to float through life, content to go with the flow, and to be carried along by natural, mindless, sometimes violent forces. If you just happen to be in their path, or they in yours, well . . . .

Life comes at you fast, and you suddenly see yourself in a surprising new light!



Zaphod said...

Was the fisherman about to hook a "tuna"? That picture made me think of the trailer from "Hancock" where Will Smith throws a beached whale back into the ocean knocking over a sailboat in the process. Another reason for whale blubber not being on my menu.

Katscratchme said...

I too am often surprised by life running headlong at me. However, my reaction to people purposefully (and sometimes inadvertently) trying to hurt my feelings is a very deep, very raw wound.
It's a good thing I am very forgiving because all these soul-scars, big and little, would have left me bitter and disfigured by now.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. Yeah. Imagine the surprise you would feel when life comes at you fast and you start to drown, and you were nowhere near the river! That one always throws me off.
"vggolhoq" What you say when you are drowning in a desert

Trillium said...

Emily your remarks about soul-scars reminded me of a 4-line Robert Frost poem:

A Question
A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-an-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.

Sometimes we might be tempted to think that the "price" is too high, that the pain is too much. But, you are right, only forgiveness has the power to heal the scars.

Chris said...

Yeah, I remember trips to Kearn River in California. For the most part, all of our trips were event free. A couple of times I had some close calls, but I was usually pretty good at sensing if the next rapid between rocks was bad or not, and would grab on to the rocks, and pull myself out, and jump back in the water past it, with my inner tube.

I remember one time this guy in our ward came and wasn't so lucky. I can't remember his name, but I remember that he lived with his mom. He got dunked by a rapid, and got super scared, and Bro. Shelley had to hold on to him more than 1/2 way down the river. He had FEAR in his eyes. I could relate to his fear. I got dunked once or twice, and I had to fight my way to the top against the current.

I also remember times that we went boogie bording at the beach, and how if you wiped out, the current would hold you under the water, and you had to fight your way to the top.

A non-water event happened one time when I was at scout camp, and I fell off a monkey bridge, and got the wind knocked out of me. I had the same kind of fear come over me when I couldn't breathe.

Another event happened rather recently in our first home, when I tried to install a GFI electrical outlet and at some point, as I was going back and forth from the breaker box, didn't turn off the power and got shocked. Then I cried. It felt like I died, and the shock brought me back to life.

But, I think I can relate to mom's analogy of floating through life and going with the flow. Sometimes it is easier that way. It takes a lot less effort. But then, often, you get the wind knocked out of you, and have to face the fear, in some form or another.

dgkav - what the river says to you when you get dunked.

Trillium said...

Thanks for sharing, Chris. I sometimes still get a flashback feeling of panic just standing on a footbridge over the Provo River and looking down into the rushing waters.

mndzxop= mind's X op: flashback