Approaching the Rapids

I’ve always been an observer of life.

One place that hasn’t served me well is when I have been an observer of my own life. Just going with the flow, letting its river carry me along, watching.

The thing my favorite mental health provider has repeated to me over our 21 year relationship is that I need to be “awake in my own life.”

For ages I had no idea what she meant by that. Me being simple: of course I’m awake–I get up, I go about my day whatever that includes, and I sleep at night.

But there’s the catch: “Whatever that includes.”

I’ve long watched people–facial expressions, reactions, body language. Interactions with others. And wondered, what made them choose that response, the laugh instead of anger? The clenched fists versus a deep breath?

I’ve watched.

Watching the river carry me is less useful when approaching rapids. That’s when sturdy oars to steer and a more than adequate flotation device become more urgent than watching.

Many times in my past I observed because there was no other choice to be made–I was a small child watching the adults. I was trying to gauge their responses, wondering why they were acting like angry children, ducking and hiding to keep myself safe.

Many times in my past I observed in my adult life, believing I had no more power than in my childhood. I watched while words were said, actions were taken, damage was done, doing my own damage, letting the boat holding my family be swamped by tempestuous waters.

I didn’t see the sturdy oars. There they were, tucked into the boat, but I was so caught up watching the people scramble in the boat, that I didn’t look around me for an answer. I just let the water carry us, straight into danger.

There was damage to the boat, to the passengers holding on for dear life–some of them children who should have had my help, my protection. Instead of looking for answers, I was hoping for help to drop from the sky.

The cautionary tale in all this is, if I had done more than watch the white water approaching and grabbed the oars, maybe I could have steered us away from the rocks and saved everyone from the bruises and fractured bones.

But I didn’t. And I can’t go back in time and change it–and that hurts my heart.

The good news? I finally learned to stop watching and start taking part in the journey. As I woke up, I quit shouting helplessly for someone else to save me, and grabbed hold of those oars.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I can’t change that. But I could choose a point along the way to stop simply watching, and start participating.

Start being awake in my own life.

We don’t have to be victims in our lives. At the point we realize the truth of where our boat is headed, we can choose. We can choose to cover our faces and let the boat carry us into the rocks, or we can decide it’s time to steer.

Choose to steer.

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