Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The River Ride - Part I

Last Sunday was Healing Service Sunday at our United Church of Christ church, and Patty and I did a "dialogue" sermon. I did the storytelling, and it's the story of a river tubing trip I took last summer, soon after surgery. Because it touches so many of the themes of this blog, I wanted to post the story here. It begins with the Old Testament reading that Patty read at the beginning and end, and at significant places in the story. I have only placed it at the beginning of the blog entry.

The River Ride

Isaiah 43:1-3
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God”

On my 59th birthday, June 18, this past summer, Patty, Lucy, Nathaniel and I had begun our southwest trip at Zion National Park. That morning, we hiked along a river, and in the afternoon, Patty proposed a tubing trip down the same river, but outside the park. Tubing! It sounded like great fun on a hot, dry summer birthday afternoon. Patty and I had tubed down a tranquil Pennsylvania river many years ago, and it had been delightful. I was ready to go, despite the fact that I was 3 ½ weeks post major abdominal surgery, as most of you know.

The surgery was to clear a blocked bile duct and remove my gallbladder. After the surgery (again as most of you know), I was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer, a rare, aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis. Our family went on our long planned trip to the southwest anyway, and on my birthday, my recovery from the surgery was going well, but I was still pretty weak.

We went into town and rented four tubes. I saw the sign on the wall that listed health conditions that counter indicated the wisdom of a tubing trip, but I assumed they applied to someone else. Although I was recovering from surgery and staggering from my cancer diagnosis, I still saw myself as an essentially health person. (Go figure!)

As soon as we got to the river, it was clear that the water level was low, and there were lots of rocks in the river. Lots of rocks. As soon as he saw the river, Nathaniel’s response was dramatic and negative. He did not like tubing on this river, but we encouraged him initially to try it and see if he liked it better with experience. After about 10 minutes, Patty realized that this trip wasn’t meant for all four of us, and she and Nathaniel pulled out. The water was moving fast, and we had passed two small rapids before Nathaniel and Patty left.

I never considered getting out. It was my birthday, I was up for some fun, Lucy was loving every minute, and clearly needed an adult to be with her. They had told us that the ride would be about 1 ½ hours, and I was ready.

Lucy and I continued on, with the water continuing to move quickly, more little rapids, then some longer, larger rapids, and soon, no place to get out of the water. Every time we hit rocks, I had to lift myself up in the tube to get from being bruised. Sometimes I would be caught on a rock, and would have to push myself off to get back into the flow of the river. Sometimes a tranquil space would open up, and then there were more rocks, more rapids.

One hour or so after we began, I was done. I was exhausted, my arm and stomach muscles ached, the sun was hot on my skin, and I wanted to get off the river. There was no exit.

The tube people had told us that we would go under one bridge about half way, and then we would see a second and third bridge toward the end, and we should get out then. When I was tired and done with the trip, we had still seen no bridges.

After realizing how exhausted I was, I fought the river for a while, wishing for the bridges. I told Lucy that if there was a place to get off at the first bridge, we would leave. She was disappointed, and made it clear that she didn’t want to leave before the end. Lucy was loving every minute of the trip. Finally, I surrendered.

Continued on the next posting . . .

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