Seeking calm waters: letting go

My Music Man, Summer

The first time I paddled a kayak as an adult, I borrowed a boat and floated MIssoula’s nearby Milltown Pond. A few years ago I posted a blog about buying my first boat, and included the story about how my then-boyfriend now-husband tried to be patient while I, a somewhat stubborn and independent twenty-year old, pushed back against instruction from this still new intimate partner. The first time I attempted to roll a kayak a few weeks later was after a spill in a set of rapids on the Blackfoot River. Once underwater I honestly didn’t try to roll- not having practiced enough to feel nearly confident. I simply pulled out and kicked my boat to the shore, knowing I had a lifejacket, it was only a Class 2 set of ripples, and I was among very accomplished boaters. While I am always cautious around water, I too have no great fears. Not long after when I was living in Seattle I boated a few times in Puget Sound with some of my graduate school buddies, sitting in longer boats and facing choppier water.

Willamette River channel between West Linn and Lake Oswego.

But these days it is my solo ventures in the quieter stretches of my home river that most speak to me. I try to get out before anyone else: it’s not a competition to be first as much as my quest to paddle in still water whether it be the stretches nearest me or to the nearby Narrows. Glassy conditions trigger more of a rush than a double espresso (actually, I don’t know about that as I only drink decaf coffee these days). Today, in the season of fishing, I don’t worry as I see a few boat trailers at the boat landing just a few minutes from my house. I know they’ve gone upriver in search of fish near the mouth of the Clackamas or the Falls. I lean in and head downriver to explore still water.

I stop paddling and allow the slow, mindful current engulf me. I let go. It’s a metaphor for much in my life now. Learning the art of letting go. I’m not sure this has been my strongest suit in my life. Determined I’ve been to make things happen, change things, get what I seek. And now: yes it’s time to let go. It’s time to figure out what’s better for me and my health and well-being. And as others know it’s not easy.

As I enter Oswego Creek from the Willamette it is as if I’m hit by a seasonal dump of cottonwood fibers – those not around here might for an instant mistake it for an out of season snowstorm. I stop paddling and look around me: branches laden with soggy leaves, dipping near the higher than normal river. The white fibers drift slowly around me, creating what some might see as river scum. Then I paddle again, keenly aware of the absence of any other boat, motorized or not. I begin to get lost in thoughts until I suddenly spy an erect heron on the shore, merely feet away. I cease paddling to watch; the current turns my boat back downriver. I let it as I keep my eyes on the heron until after a bit it gathers its wings and flies off.

Maybe now that I have passed the age typified as the Crone Stage, I too can embrace attributes identified to this time of life? When Mom turned sixty, she held a crone party of sorts, complete with ritual. Of course, our mom was then a somewhat noted expert teaching wildly popular classes on “women at mid-life.” When it was time for my daughter, her granddaughter, then two and a half, to share a few words, she hesitated before quietly telling us how her hands were wrinkled when she got out of the bath. Prior comments about the appearance of wrinkles in this circle of women had piqued her attention. It was soon after that party when Mom stepped down from the adjunct faculty position she adored at Marylhurst as she developed an autoimmune illness, then identified as chronic fatigue, to be diagnosed with lupus a decade later.

I didn’t throw my own crone party when I turned sixty last October, instead I prepared Humanity’s Grace for publication and blogged about grief and Mom’s death. Yet, like so many of my friends and colleagues, I too have been thinking so much about what I now know, need and want. They say the developmental task of the Crone Stage is the ability to share wisdom. Many believe that we now are better staged to reach into our deep spiritual self, to utilize our powers of intuition and finding meaning. It is our time to give back, speak up, take action. And to cultivate our passions. Because I was younger than so many of my colleagues early in my career, I have been slow to realize: I am among the last of my career “peers” still in a traditionally structured career. Yes, this is me. Now.

Maybe now, finally, I will learn the art of letting go. Or perhaps we continue to practice this our entire life, with differing losses taxing our heart in ways we didn’t before imagine. Yes, perhaps it’s about continual practice. There’s so much in our lives that we face letting go of. Fear, anger, deception, and sometimes hopes, dreams, good health and life itself. And perhaps, rather than fully letting go of “hopes and dreams” we instead allow ourself to recraft, repurpose some and develop others. This is where I crave a good talk with Dad. In the years he lived, especially his last thirty-five, he spoke so much on this, whether it was about finally figuring out what he loved in work at the Port of Portland (“he was a technical guy in the end”) or his recovery and support gained through his community at Alano and beyond.

Letting Go in these times of COVID might mean regaining friendships with someone we disagreed with or figuring out changes with our health status. In the heightened politics, maybe it means letting go of knowing what’s right or letting go of a friendship. And letting go too might first examine how we identify our “work self.” It cannot be coincidental that recently this has been a key conversation among my close friends and colleagues. Yes, I say it in every class I teach: work affects our lives outside work and vice versa. Letting go means examining this part of our lives too. And figuring out a healthier and more satisfying path to carve.

And so, what’s one to do? Find still water and floating cotton fibers. Find joy in the simplest of things. Join with friends and family. Write. Teach others and speak out. And make time to seek out more still water.

Related work

My Music Man, Bedazzled Ink Publishing, 2017

My Boat and I

An event at midlife: crisis, challenge, breakthrough, or opportunity?

In this moment I eat blackberries

Paddling mournfully I muse

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