Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Linda C. Wisniewski
I met Ellen at the lake that morning. Two rowboats were already out on the horizon, the men inside and their fishing poles mere silhouettes above the water. Nothing moved in the sultry air.
Ellen and I pushed our kayaks off the sandy bank and stepped inside. She gave me a few tips on holding the paddle, but mostly she was there for moral support. Although we were both in our sixties, my friend had years on me in the kayaking department. I'd paddled before, but I wasn't ready to go it alone.
I enjoyed the rhythm of my arms propelling the light plastic boat. I brought up one side of my paddle low, near the lake's surface. With the other side, I scooped water backward, quiet, smooth and strong. My motions fluid, I kept the boat subtly balanced as we moved ahead.
Ellen told me to follow the paddle's blade with the wrist of my dominant, left hand. But after an hour, my left wrist started to hurt. She said I might have been gripping too tightly. Don't we always?
We hold rigidly to duties, jobs and relationships, afraid to be cast off, alone and helpless. We don't even notice our true identity floating away.
The sun was high and hot at noon. Carillon bells floated a hymn across the water from a church a mile away. We stopped paddling and drifted, listening to the bells, the sound of lapping water, bird songs. We talked, and we sat in silence, two women on the cusp of aging. Then, without a word, we picked up our paddles and broke through the lake's calm surface.
The water below was murky, what lay beneath unknown. To go forward, we had to trust no submerged logs or debris would put us in danger of capsizing.
The way ahead was clear and calm. I was pleased by the soreness in my arms and muscles that meant I was still growing stronger.
I love being on the water. Sometimes, after too long a time away from it, I forget how the waves support me. When I begin to paddle, my first thought is always, Why don't I do this more often?
It's tempting to stay safely on shore, and to accept another kind of stiffness, that of the mind and spirit. But if my luck holds, whether at rest or on the move, I will someday be truly old.
I have learned to paddle more efficiently and to get back into a capsized kayak. I bought a leash for my paddle so it won't float off without me if I drop it in the water.
I'm as ready as can be for the day when I tip over. But I'm not ready at all for the murky water of old age. I don't know if that's even possible. I trust in the presence of friends.
Linda C. Wisniewski lives in Bucks County, PA. Her essays and stories have been published in regional and online magazines. Her first book, "Off Kilter," has been published by Pearlsong Press.
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