Margaret A. sent this story:
It was the summer of 1996 when I decided to go white water rafting in the Grand Canyon, at the age of 44. I knew it was the thing to do the moment a line from the movie Grand Canyon popped into my mind: talking to Kevin Klein, Danny Glover described what it felt like to see the Grand Canyon, “I felt like a gnat that lands on the ass of a cow chewing his cud on the side of the road that you drive by doing 70 mph.”
In the fall of 1996, I would be starting my doctoral studies. Having worked in teaching environments for most of my career as a psychiatric nurse, I saw many examples of professional people emerging from advanced degree programs who seemingly forgot not only their manners but how to conduct themselves with common courtesy. Would I come out the other end of that program transformed into an arrogant, disrespectful, know-it-all?
Yes, I wanted to remind myself of how truly insignificant my own human ‘I’ was. What better way to connect with my inner gnat than to surrender myself to a place where the tiniest of pebbles could break loose from its uppermost rim and squish me? Imagining the trip as an investment in humility insurance, off I went, satisfied with my choice and my intention, and fortified with my faith.
God did not disappoint. A helicopter dropped me off deep inside the canyon where the rafts were ready and waiting. As it turned out, the least favored seats were those in the first row of a flat rubber raft that had no sides, no seats and no safety belts. We were told the force of the rapids was strongest in the front row and the only way to stay on the raft was to hold on to the thick ropes that were attached to it. I wouldn’t say I jumped at the chance to travel those waters from a front row seat. Let’s just say I know when my bluff is being called. I thanked God for the opportunity and accepted the challenge. It’s funny how little effort it takes to stay focused on the here and now when you know at any moment you could get ripped right out of this world. Going through the rapids was indeed a heart pounding, laser-focused experience. In the spaces between rapids, there was room to admire the breathtaking sculpted rock formations; rock that had no choice but to yield to the unrelenting flow of water over time.
The ‘gnat’ moment happened on the 3rd day of this 6 day trip. The white water spray made it impossible to see anything. There I was, holding on to the raft rope one minute and overboard the next. It felt like some Divine slow motion button was pushed as I tumbled into and under the water. I remember being surprised that I didn’t feel afraid. Then came a shrug of a thought, “Oh well, I guess this is it.” No sooner did I finish that thought when I felt a hand on the back of my life jacket, pulling me up.
To this day I wonder if things would have worked out differently if I panicked or believed God had abandoned me. Instead, I felt my prayers were heard and answered; my quest mirrored back to me. Going forward, I could choose to be the water or the rock; driven by faith or fear.
So it was that I completed graduate school still in possession of good manners and common courtesy.