ARTICLE

Lessons learned on the river

?What church do you belong to??


It?s maybe one of my most dreaded questions. I?d rather be asked where I lie within the political spectrum, because I can curtail that question like any politician worth their salt. But a question about a Holy House is hard to curtail.


My most common response is that I was raised Southern Baptist. If pushed, I expand by saying that as I moved around I tested out different churches and denominations, but at the moment I?m not a member of any church.


The most honest answer I could give, however, is that my Sundays are not reserved for sitting in a pew, but rather the hull of my kayak, gliding down some river beside my dad. It?s the place my dad and I can talk about God, the universe and our beliefs. And although politics have been banned in our household for almost a decade, we use those lazy Sunday mornings, when the sun is just beginning to warm the grass covered banks of the Des Moines River to skim around the edges of political talk. Daddy tells me stories about when he was a kid and I just listen, trying to imagine him without a beard and the creases around his eyes. Sunday is a special day that no matter how hectic our lives are, we can spare a few hours for the river and for each other.


I was introduced to kayaking at a young age ? at age three, in fact. We were on a rare vacation to Springfield, Mo. I don?t remember much of the vacation, but I remember being in awe of this emerald green thing being gently strapped to the top of the truck topper. There were blankets and pillows spread out in the bed of the truck and my sister and I rode back there during the long trek down south. It?s there that I also remember hearing the alert blaring from the radio telling us the levy had broken and Clark County had been engulfed by the Mississippi River. We raced home, relieved to find that Wayland, perched atop a hill, had been saved from the reaches of the river. It was in those merky-muddy waters that Daddy tested out his new buy and we would one day find our common ground among the current.


Two years later, I could barely tie my shoes, or contain my excitement as Dad pulled up to my school with a blue Kiwi kayak in tow. This was going to be the best show-and-tell ever. And a few weeks later I was putting the skills I showed and told my kindergarten classmates to the test as Dad and I paddled a new river near my uncle?s house in Poplar Bluffs, Mo.


My little five-year-old arms quickly tired so Dad tied my kayak to the back of his. I giggled at how I had duped him into doing all the work for me as I looked around the unfamiliar terrain. Dad pointed here and there, telling me about the different fern and fauna. It was swell, until it wasn?t.


The river was running high and fast and I somehow managed to get the stern of my kayak stuck in the fork of a tree that had long ago been swallowed by the river. The water, instead of rushing around me, was rushing into the hull of my kayak, sinking it and me. I cried out, flapping my arms all around. Yet, as the water rushed around me and the fear began to consume me, the sun steadily stayed above me and the monarch butterfly continued along its path. It was my first lesson that the world is so much bigger than you and will continue to carry on no matter how Earth-shattering of a moment you?re having.


Dad?s arms quickly scooped me up and rescued me from my nearly submerged kayak.


?Stop crying,? he said as he brushed my tears away. We were safely on the riverbanks, but my legs quivered as nothing solid was beneath me. ?Karyn, you are fine, stop your crying.?


As my hysteria continued to swell I?m sure he told me that if I didn?t stop crying, he?d give me something to cry about, it was Dad?s go-to line.


?You panicked,? he said sternly. ?You can never panic in a situation like that.?


He was a volunteer firefighter for 30-odd years; he knew a thing or two about when not to panic.


?If you are going to do this,? he said pointing to my kayak, ?you have got to learn to trust your lifejacket,? he said tugging on mine, reminding me it was there. ?You have to trust that I would never let anything happen to you and you have got to learn to trust yourself.?


At five-years-old, on a riverbank in southern Missouri, my dad gave me some of the best advice; advice, admittedly, that I still struggle with from time to time. Trust my instincts. Trust myself.


This Sunday, I hope to celebrate Father?s Day out on the river with my dad. And as we take that last bend around the Des Moines River, I?ll make sure to thank him for teaching me to be passionate, to be driven and to trust myself, even if they were, at times, hard lessons to learn.


Happy Father?s Day.