It was in a crowded bustle of running, laughing children and grownups with coffee cups in hand, catching up and sharing their weekly news after the Sunday sermon. I spotted a friend in this happy crowd and walked towards her. She was holding the most adorable child with another little one close to her side when she leaned over and said directly into my ear so no one else could hear that the most terrible and devastating thing that could happen in a family had just happened in her’s. She was still in shock really yet here she was with the kids and the coffee and the crowd of happy others.
What do you even say in a moment like that when the setting is incongruous with someone’s reality?
My mind flashed to a time years ago where I stood on the riverbank with nearly 100 good friends, their families and kids, waiting to launch a flimsy raft into the surging Merced River. One by one, in groups of twos, threes, and fours, I watched our friends get into their rafts and get carried away down the river. What an incredible journey on a sunny summer day. Everyone else had launched, it was just my dear friend Jeanne and I that were left. We two were the mother hens who insisted on launching after the menfolk and kiddos had gone safely down-river ahead of us. We had intentionally chosen the raft that seemed to keep deflating, the one that no one else wanted. Maybe it was the multiple patches on one end of it from a previous interaction with a ragged river rock. We wouldn’t have put our own kids in it for safety sake but we got in and with barely a half a paddle it started to simultaneously sink and carry us forward. And fast. The melted snow water was freezing cold. The water was rushing and the rocks were slippery under foot. In a matter of moments we were capsized and although the water was barely to my waist I couldn’t keep my feet under me. My friend flashed into immediate action, yelling over the sound of the river and trailing laughter of those that were already too far ahead to even notice our plight. With a locked on stare she drove her paddle toward me and commanded “Don’t let go of the oar!“
If I’d been closer to her I would’ve grabbed onto her instead and we both would have gone down. But I did as she said and we both held onto our respective ends of that oar with a white knuckled grip. We managed to hold our own ground and the oar as we inched our way from the middle of the rushing waters back to the safety of the riverbank.
I’ve never forgotten that experience or those words. They’ve replayed in my head over and over in many life circumstances ever since. It’s what you say to a friend in deep or rushing waters.
Stand firm when you say to your friend, “Don’t let go of the oar.”