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The Canoe Ride

The early morning lightshow of thunder and lightning should have been enough to dissuade my friend, Paul, and me from pursuing our Saturday morning canoe ride. Knowing that summer storms in Florida are common and fleeting, however, we continued to make our way down to the Peace River in spite of the huge black clouds overhead.

We parked and paid the rental fee for our canoe. An old retired school bus took us to the launching site on the bank of the river. It was an 11-mile journey by canoe back to the car. Very doable. How long could it take us? Two, maybe three hours? No problem. Or so we thought.

We’d barely paddled a mile when the sky exploded on us--lightening, thunder, wind and unyielding sheets of ice cold rainfall—providing a most unusual sensation given the season. We were freezing!

We tried to make the best of it. Turning to face me in the back of the canoe, Paul raised an empty root beer can in the air and said with a smile, “It doesn’t get any better than this!” mocking an old beer commercial. It didn’t take long for our meager attempts at humor to fizzle in the punishing storm. We were left with only the question “What should we do?”

We couldn’t go back to the bus; it was long gone. There was no protective shelter on the shore. We could have stopped and gone ashore, but what for? It would still be raining on us, and we’d still have to complete the remainder of our 11-mile route.

The only strategy that made any sense to either of us was to keep going, suck it up, push through it. Even though the journey felt like it would never be over under those conditions, we knew at some point this miserable trip would end.

Is this not a metaphor for so many aspects of life? . . .Persevering in the face of adversity to pursue an important goal or cause, leaping through endless hoops to obtain advanced training or a degree, enduring character assaults from a superior in order to maintain a job or military commitment, surviving relentless medical procedures like chemotherapy and radiation that destroy the body in an effort to preserve it?

One of my clinical specialties is treating the severely traumatized, those who have endured numerous traumatic episodes that have crippled their capacity to function in many facets of life. Often the trauma has been childhood sexual abuse.

Consider James. His high school history teacher violated him repeatedly for two years. Despite the fact that the abuse ended almost two decades ago, the horrific aspects of that experience still regularly haunt James. As a part of our work together, James knows that he needs to tell me everything that is troubling him—the nightmares, the flashbacks, the intrusive recollections of the abuse that invade his workdays. The telling of the stories and the subsequent release of his emotional pain has proved to be healing for James. That is, he feels dramatically better when he shares a painful memory of the abuse. Further, he never has to retell it for the power of the trauma seems to dissolve with the release of the pain.

Yet there are more memories, more ugly stories to tell so James never wants to continue the journey. He looks for reasons to cancel appointments, to pull the canoe to the bank of the river where the storm is just as powerful. On some level, though, James is aware that only by continuing his journey through the pain will he reach the place where the memories will stop because there are only so many times the teacher abused him—only so many miles to navigate the canoe through the tempestuous waters.

As someone once said, “If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.” 

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