I often think back to the Rapids of the Ocoee River in Tennessee. As a fearless sixteen year old, when the youth pastor of the Presbyterian Church I attended put together a group to go white water rafting, I was the first in line.
I had not been overly active in the youth group of the church; however, I had been a part of the girls choir, and several other girls had been an integral part of the Youth Program. I was a loner, even then, and when I approached Gerald about joining the group, he was mightily pleased……….
“I had a feeling you were the daredevil of the group, ” he said privately. At that point, nobody else had signed up – Gerald, who was finishing his Doctorate of Divinity at Sanford University, had been expecting the males to all sign up; I’m not sure what was expected in terms of females coming along – I suspect they’d believed it was going to be an all male extravaganza. Fortunately, I had rapidly opened the door to something else. Ultimately, there were four girls, three males, and Gerald, and one other chaperone.
We left Halloween weekend, and the drive was beautiful. While our peers were attending Halloween parties, we were driving into the night to the Tennessee river.
Saturday was a sunny day, with the sun shinning – it had that Autumn ‘lilt’ that makes Fall so loveable.
As we put on our wet suits and met with our guide, who turned out to be a full blooded Cherokee Indian, I began to feel a tad nervous. This was new and different, and I secretly questioned my ‘daredevil’ status – but I was rapidly pushing that back – I had mastered the poker face early – and while everyone else hesitated to step on the raft, I told the guide I’d get on first. I think he was a starting to become put out with this group of White kids for the hesitation, and I could not blame him. I think he was rapidly becoming disgusted. Who could blame him? I think he was relieved to see SOMEBODY step forward.
I looked over the right side, and saw the rapids….and the white tops forming in the water. Suddenly, I felt at ease. Finally, the rest of the group had gotten into the raft as well, and before anyone realized it, we were drifting down the river, being carried by the currents. I loved seeing the Autumn leaves in the trees as we moved along – yellow, golden, red, rusted leaves. However, observing the leaves and the trees became almost an impossibility, as we came around a particular turn in the river: it was the point where there was no sightseeing….it was paddle, or get thrown. At one point, the raft was indeed thrown into the air – everyone somehow managed to remain seated…..except me. I was air born for several seconds……….those seconds were suspended in time, and I had no idea how long or short that period was; I did not hear the white water, I did not feel it as it splashed over me, I did not feel the cold, late October wind…………I simply looked at the river, then more trees, and the view from ‘up there’ was magnificent.
Suddenly, I felt Gerald, two of the high school boys, and the guide grabbing me – one from the back, one from each shoulder, and somebody had my legs…..and the voices finally made it into my ears……..’OH MY GOD GRAB HER!!!! GRAB HER!!! SHE’S GONNA FLY OUT!!!!!”
Gerald, who was sitting behind me, and had grabbed my back, was hesitant to let go, but we had to paddle through. I laughed a deep, hearty laugh…………..as scared as I was, part of me thought, “THAT was fun……….let’s do it again!!” The full scope of the rapids, and the rocks that they flowed over, finally made themselves clear to me. Nature at it’s finest…….and in all it’s fury.
The next Sunday, early in the morning, we packed up and checked out of the motel. Before getting onto the Interstate, Gerald pulled over, and we made our way to an opening, overlooking the mountains, and the sun was now coming up. Gerald said a few words about our trek down the rapids the day before; he mentioned the group coming together in a split second to try to spare me from getting thrown out of the raft…….I realized at that moment how fierce that situation really was, and I felt a wave of thanks come over me, as Gerald began strumming “Morning Has Broken” on his guitar. I was not fearful………..just thankful.