This afternoon became nothing like I had planned. After work, I decided I should hop on the paddleboard for some fresh air, clear my mind, perhaps build a six-pack. (Nah, who am I kidding?) Things were going splendidly when I found myself in the middle of the lake. I thought I was pretty awesome as I was gliding over the water without a care in the world. That is, until I realized the wind that had helped me get so far out beyond the shore would be to my disadvantage getting back to shore. I was lost in the moment and common sense was not catching up to me.
Although I never once fell in the cloudy green, algae infested waters, the wind and waves were determined to be my downfall. I was stuck. What seemed like hours of paddling towards the docks was more like 30-40 minutes, only to find I wasn’t making very much progress. At this point, all of the worse case scenarios are running through my mind. I could die. I could give up and be rescued, but how embarrassing would that be?
Praying and cussing ensued simultaneously. Let’s be honest. After attempting to paddle to the shore to the right and the one in front of me, the water and wind guided my board to the left. Into the tulle’s I drifted. Of course I had to paddle making it look like I knew what I was doing. There was a small inlet where I was able to recover from the wind and take control of my craft. On the other side of the tulle’s there was a trail. I attempted walking barefoot with my board while the wind pushed me and the board back. More cussing than praying at this point. “God! Why can’t anything go right in my life?!”, I yelled. “Why does everything have to be so difficult?!” I was having a full-fledged whiny-ass pity party. I was beginning to doubt the old saying that everything happens for a reason. I even remember asking God, “What could possibly be the meaning of this situation?!”
I managed to find a place to stash my board while I walked, barefoot through thorns and gravel back to the docks. Nearly half a mile. My over analyzing kicked in when I thought I might be maimed by a badger or other wild critter. Cussing and yelling continued, but mostly on the inside, of course. I still have to maintain some sort of dignity.
Eventually I got back to my vehicle by the docks. I remember walking by a man with a prosthetic leg and his dog along the way, all the while feeling real sorry for myself. I was blinded to my surroundings by my own circumstances.
I got to the car and found a way to get within close proximity to where I stashed my board. There were railroad tracks, an underpass and a locked gate to the road I needed to access to get to where my board was. I knew the sun wasn’t going to stay in the sky much longer. I crawled through the gate to locate my board and figure out how to get it through the locked gate before dark. The details of locating my board and getting home safely to my apartment are irrelevant to the rest of the story. Yes, I located my board and made it home safe. Yes, I was a whiny-ass between the lake and trail and perhaps have some repentance to seek.
Where the story really begins, I think, is when I met a homeless guy and his dog on the railroad tracks while I was walking back to my car. This is the same man with one leg I had passed earlier while i was inwardly complaining about my life.
He shared his story. I shared mine. We were each at a crossroads, though we came from different worlds, but not as different as you would think. Even as I write this, the radio plays the lyrics, “Life is not the mountaintops, it’s the walking in between.” I think that’s where we each were at. He was contemplating ending his life and I was whining about mine and my pending divorce. Neither of us thought we would end up in the present circumstances we found ourselves in. He once had hopes of being a drug and alcohol counselor. But he, like many of us, was stuck waiting for his shit to come together before he could even consider helping someone else out. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Sometimes we are able to help others out while we are experiencing our own personal struggles and state of brokenness. This is what vulnerability looks like. We often need to struggle together.
Somehow we think we need to get all of our own shit together before we are “worthy” of helping someone else. We use the phrase getting “healthy” like it’s so easy. You could be in a state of looking really healthy and being fine on the outside, when you are torn apart on the inside.
Sitting on the tracks we conversed, stirring up hope and encouragement into each other’s lives for over an hour. I was able to draw from my experiences in mental health to help him access ongoing services and possible housing. He opened his heart to a stranger and I was compelled to do the same. He let me into his campsite and showed me a small glimpse of his world. We both knew it wasn’t an accident that we met the way we did. Whether or not I see this person again, or he sees me. We both know it was one of those meetings that wasn’t by accident. In a sense, we both walked away feeling we had just assisted in saving another’s life for one more day. I think this is what hope looks like. Stranded and feeling there’s no way out. Frustrated and cussing along the way. Someone interrupts your life with a whole different set of shattered circumstances. You feel very small and yet very big at the same time. It’s honestly very hard to explain.
This is life, when we choose to live it. It really sucks at times. Some times harder than others. When we think we are at the end of what we can handle, hope shows up in a way unimaginable. I think this is what hope and grace look like more and more. It is not calculated or well planned by us humans. It is not something we can coordinate with our vast resources. It just happens. Sometimes saying “Hi” is the gateway to conversations that can change someone else’s life and radically impact yours at the same time.
It was getting dark and I still needed to find my board, secure it to my car and head home. I left his campsite somehow knowing we would meet again and perhaps be in different circumstances, or maybe we wouldn’t, but we each knew the significance of the meeting.
I have a friend who no longer believes that God works in mysterious ways because he no longer believes in God. He believes everything has an explanation. I have been on the road to doubt on many occasions and am still left wrestling with life circumstances which cause me to doubt God’s presence and intervention in the midst of heartache and loss. I’m thankful that there is room enough in faith to doubt. Just before this meeting, I was literally praying that God would show me that things can and really do happen for a reason. I was literally asking what is the meaning of all of this? When I met a guy on the railroad tracks contemplating his own life. He had already had five failed attempts at suicide. For another moment in time, another day, perhaps, I have reason to believe that some things really do happen for a reason.