It was an overcast day out on the river. I sat on a giant boulder, my feet hanging over the rushing water below, eating chips and salsa. We were on a rafting trip on the Arkansas River in Brown’s Canyon, Colorado. It struck me as altogether sad and empty and also completely ok to be here with these women from my past, these women that used to be my family.
We had all suffered torrential loss in the past year in different ways, different amounts of moons passing between those events and now. I swing my legs over the river and think about loss. And I think about letting go.
Our raft guide is nearing elderly status so his filter has long been discarded. He asks us jarring questions about our childhoods and about our relationships to each other. He tells stories about his mother’s death which stings at least two of the members in the raft. I tear up more than once, unable to define my relationship to this woman seated behind me, a woman who has loved and cared for me for over ten years.
The river that day was mostly calm, gliding us along canyon walls and silty beaches. Some of the rapids were scarier than others, finding us slamming into boulders and dipping down mini waterfalls. Some of the passageways seemed too narrow to pass through, some took us by surprise with their strength to pull us through. But anyway you looked at it, we were headed downstream regardless of rapids or calm waters or giant boulders. It’s true, we could fall out, we could even paddle hard in the opposite direction to avoid a terrifying rapid, we could just float in the calm sections for a long time disregarding what lies ahead.
And sometimes we do that. Loss will keep us spinning around and around those placid waters, unable to go back, impossible to go forward. And sometimes we are dead set, I mean we are nearly killing ourselves, to paddle back upstream. And when the current finally defeats our scrawny arms, we just look back with longing.
Loss comes at us in many forms. We lose people to death, to addiction, to severed ties, to no reason at all. We lose dreams, houses, dogs, jobs. We lose our will to get up in the morning, to keep trying, to have faith. We lose sight of what’s important. We lose ourselves. We lose what could have been.
Paddling against the current does us no good. We can try to go back, sometimes we even get pretty far upstream, but that person, that dream, that loss, they won’t be there. We can sit in the calm waters, afraid to dip our paddles in for what lies ahead, but eventually, eventually, that current is going to carry us there anyway.
I’m a little afraid to face that white water up ahead. I’m a little afraid of what it means to let go of this bond that can no longer be described as family. But I’m looking ahead and ready to charge. Because if I have learned anything from the losses behind me, it’s that there’s no point in crying over the wreckage, because well, it’s wrecked. But what lies ahead, well there’s magic there if you’ll only face forward.
After a full day of rafting, tired and sun-weary, we stopped at a diner in Buena Vista. The kind where everyone turns around to look at you and they have millionaire pie on the menu. Platters of biscuits and gravy were passed around and my mug stayed warm with coffee. That gaping hole of loss stood wide open in the center of the table. We smiled and passed the conversation and said goodbye without words or hugs or hand-written letters. We just ate the greasy food and let what could have been go.