Earlier this month, Dale and I spent a leisurely afternoon tubing down the Yellow Beeches Creek. We took one car to the end of the planned trip and the other car and the inner tubes to the beginning. A little more than three hours later, we emerged from the creek, loaded our wet selves and the tubes into the first car and drove back to the beginning to reclaim the second car. This was a pleasantly cool way to spend a hot summer afternoon, and I certainly didn’t feel obliged to think about whether there was any larger meaning, but nonetheless I couldn’t stop myself thinking about “life lessons from tubing” as we floated along.
Partner with others: While you can go tubing by yourself, it’s much more difficult and not nearly as much fun. Logistically, tubing is a bit of a challenge especially if you plan to go any distance. Having a car positioned at both ends of the run, which requires at least two people to make happen, avoids long walks either at the beginning or the end carrying heavy awkward inner tubes. In life too, there are few things you can do entirely by yourself; adages like “two heads are better than one” or “it takes a village” are true, even though the so-called “rugged individualism” that is so much a part of the American psyche often works against partnering. It’s tempting to think we can do things entirely by ourselves – and sometimes perhaps we can – but lots of efforts in life are much more successful if we work together with others.
Go with the flow: The creek flows in one direction, and as someone pointed out, tubers don’t have to make decisions about which direction to go – they just go with the flow. Sometimes, this is a lesson I need to pay attention to – when I’m inclined to resist what’s happening in my life, to tense up when life isn’t going as I hoped, or to be frustrated when my neatly-planned schedule is disrupted. So I tell myself to relax and just go with the flow. On the other hand, occasionally the tube may be headed for a rock in the middle of the creek and you have to paddle against the flow to avoid hitting the rock. Similarly, sometimes just “going with the flow” in life means we accept things we shouldn’t accept without question or protest. I’m constantly trying to sift out when I should just relax and let things be, and when I should speak up and do something that will definitely go against the flow and perhaps incur criticism or even anger from others.
Be comfortable with unknowns. As we floated down the creek, Dale and I knew where we wanted to end up and we had a general idea of how long it would take to get there. But along the way, it was really hard to tell exactly where we were. Towards the end of the run, we kept thinking we must almost be there – just around the next corner, perhaps? – only to find that no, it wasn’t around the next corner or the next. We also wondered how well our inner tubes would hold up. We’ve had them for a long time, and who knows when they might begin to disintegrate? Plus, the creek was fairly shallow in spots and we scraped bottom several times. When might the sharp edge of a rock pierce one of the tubes? We also didn’t know how much the creek had changed since the last time we tubed this stretch. Would the rapids be bigger or smaller? Were some spots no longer passable?
The life lesson here is obvious, I suppose, but for me it bears repeating. I am not one who deals well with uncertainty and unknowns. It’s often hard for me to go with the afore-mentioned flow when I don’t know where it will lead. I like to know where I’m headed or what the outcome will be; I like issues to be clear and unambiguous. But the reality is that I can’t always know the destination or the outcomes, and few issues are ever entirely clear or not muddled by shades of gray and various complexities. I try to be comfortable with that, but my discomfort with the unknown often creates stress for me. (Perhaps a little paradoxically, while I wish issues could be clear and unambiguous, I also actually prefer shades of gray to black and white when it comes to explaining and understanding many religious, political and social issues. Go figure.)
Appreciate different perspectives. You see an entirely different creek when you’re in it than you do when you’re driving beside it or crossing a bridge over it. As we were floating down the creek, damselflies perched on us and a water snake slithered by – things you would likely not see from the bank and certainly not from a bridge. A friend who lives near the creek told Dale he ties a garbage bag to a tree at a popular rope swing site to encourage people not to litter. We looked for it as we floated by, and sure enough, there it was – again not something we would have been seen from most other vantage points.
I think about this lesson in a number of different contexts, including a significant conflict situation I was part of some time ago. After a meeting, someone quoted the person who was the center of the conflict as saying something rather inflammatory. I had been in the same meeting and remembered what he said quite differently, and said so. The one doing the quoting declared with confidence, “Oh, that’s what he said,” to which I responded, “I don’t remember it that way.” We brought different perspectives to the situation and so were inclined to interpret things to match our own perspectives. What struck me was that even when I said I didn’t remember the quote the same way, the person didn’t acknowledge that maybe she remembered it incorrectly. She was so sure she was right. I thought I was right too, but since we both couldn’t be right, I tried to think about what was really going on. For me it was a classic example of how important it is to consider the other person’s perspective (walk the proverbial mile in his or her shoes), recognize that we all bring our own prejudices to a situation, and be just a little tentative about our own “rightness.”
Take appropriate precautions. When Dale and I talk about going tubing, we always pay attention to the weather. We don’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm and risk being in the creek when there’s a flash flood which can easily happen around here during the summer. We also don’t go when the creek is high after a significant rain. Of course, we don’t want it to be too shallow to float without repeatedly scraping the bottom, but we are painfully aware of the risks of high water. Years ago, when we were in college, Dale went canoeing with a friend early one spring when this same creek was pretty high and the water was still very cold. The canoe capsized and Dale and Daryl found themselves in the freezing cold water. Dale was able to grab a tree branch and scramble to shore, but Daryl who was not a swimmer desperately hung onto the canoe and was carried downstream by the strong current, getting colder by the minute. Meanwhile Dale ran along the shore frantically trying to figure out how to rescue Daryl. If two men hadn’t appeared downstream to help, the outcome could very easily have been disastrous and tragic. Enough said about the importance of taking proper precautions!!
Our inner tubes are stored away in our basement waiting for the next time we get the hankering to go tubing. Maybe the next time I’ll just enjoy the ride and forget about trying to draw life lessons, but then again, there are always new lessons to be learned.