A Push Stroke

There are a couple of certainties when my dad comes to visit: we will eat a lot of fish, and home improvement projects will be completed. Odds are also pretty good that we will go kayaking.

I was much more relaxed during this kayak trip than during the previous one with the death machines/motor boats, relaxed enough to think about my form. “It’s a push stroke,” Dad always says, meaning that to get the most power, I need to lean back against the seat, push against the foot pegs with my legs, and then, with all this support in place, push the paddle through the water using my back muscles.

When something terrifying is happening—for example, I can’t get the boat to turn around, which is really urgent because I’m in open, calm water with nothing around me—I do the opposite of this. I lean forward and try to pull the paddle harder through the water using my massive arm strength.

I do this in life as well. Rather than leaning into the Divine, I often decide that I need to attack whatever it is on my own. I don’t trust that when I lean back there will be any seat to hold me.

The problem is, I’m kind of puny, like the strength of my arms compared to that of my legs and back. I’m not going to move the kayak of my life very far by relying on myself.

It would be nice if God were out in front of us, visible, parting the Red Sea as he did for the Israelites (although, really, who was volunteering to take that first step?). But charging forward is most often not how we experience our connection to God, to the power that sustains and ultimately moves us. Richard Rohr would say we have to fall into God, to let go of being in control. Perhaps that journey can be as easy as leaning back with trust.

Of Otters, Kayaks and Mortality

When I go sea kayaking with my dad, I spend a good amount of time thinking I am going to die. Never mind that he refuses to take me anywhere except protected bays.

Dad once told me a story of some unfortunate couple in a small craft getting creamed by a tanker. I translated this to all boats with motors simultaneously will not notice and are gunning for all small, oar or paddle-driven boats. If you think those psychos in their outboard-powered death machines cannot both ignore and aim for something at the same time, you are not using your imagination (see post on fretting).

sea otterThis time, however, another threat presented itself. We were heading out toward the breakwater, that is, more than 100 yards from shore. Though still protected, it appeared that we would come close enough to the open ocean that it would insist on pulling me out to a watery grave.

A boat did, of course, try to run me over on the way out, by which I mean, I paddled in front of it while it was close enough to be visible. After this near-death encounter, Dad instructed me to stay away from the towering, foot-high breakers with the apparently clear-to-him instructions, “Don’t go where they are.” Breakers tend to separate me from my kayak.

Then the day improved dramatically. Aside from my not dying, I saw a sea otter floating nearby. As I approached, he flipped off his back and stuck just his head out of the water, watching until I reached some invisible line at which point he dove underwater and resurfaced a short distance away.

Sea otters are the Spinal Tap of cuteness—eleven on a scale of one to ten. Bobbing on the water only a few dozen yards from the poster animal for adorable, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Braving the boats and the tides suddenly felt completely worthwhile. Doing things that frighten us doesn’t always pay off this well, but it often does. It’s helpful to remember that after the unpleasant, scary part, the universe might throw in some otters.