They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. My preacher recently pointed out that the road to Heaven is also paved with good intentions. It’s what you DO on each road that matters. If the heat you’re packing is only the intent, you might be on the wrong road.
I’ve been thinking about these roads lately, because I find myself hopping back and forth between them more than I’d like to admit. I’ve discovered that there are places along the route where the fork between roads is fairly narrow and the signage is blurry. It’s easy to veer if I’m not paying attention or a stiff breeze blows me in the wrong direction. Most of the time, I do okay. Even better than okay. Most of the time I’m high functioning, with a hint of irrational just to keep things interesting. But since January, my entire landscape has changed. I expected to miss Jennifer. That part, though terrible, has not been a surprise to me. I did not expect to be so easily thrown off course. I didn’t expect that in losing her I could so easily lose myself.
Oh, and then there’s menopause. Don’t even get me started on that. I can tell you which road that one is on…
Within the last 7 days, there are two I am completely ashamed of. On both of these days, there was almost nothing in my thoughts or actions that I recognized. Yesterday was one of those days. And at about 1:30 p.m., I launched my paddle board into the Hillsborough River to hopefully shift the tone of the day I was having. In previous years, I wouldn’t have stepped out on a paddle board in August. The gator activity is still fairly high. But this year? Eh. Why not?
So I did.
I was in a mood, I can tell you.
I shoved out into the river in pursuit of peace and better thinking.
What I ended up with was a little more than I bargained for.
To be totally fair, it had been a peaceful paddle until the final ten minutes. This time of year, you don’t see boats on the river in the middle of a weekday. Yesterday was no different. My paddle broke the surface of the water in a quiet percussive cadence that played under the strain of the cicadas. I don’t love the sound of cicadas, because they remind me of creepy things that would send me to the hospital if I ever came face to face with one. But yesterday, this soft, late-summer melody in the trees lulled me into lying down on the paddle board for a few minutes to look up at the sky. I don’t do this much, because I fear people seeing me through their plate glass windows, thinking I’m dead, and trying to rescue me. It hasn’t happened, obviously, but it would be outrageously awkward if it did. I stayed flat and relaxed long enough to drift into a neighbor’s deck. At that point, I stood up and maneuvered the paddle board back in the direction of my house.
On the return paddle home, the current was against me and the wind had kicked up. The front of my board bobbed in the ripple created by the weather and I dug twice as hard to move half as fast. Even so, I was moving along fine. When I got to my own bend in the river, the wind died and the water settled into a slick surface like coffee table glass. I noted where I was, but wasn’t as focused on my immediate surroundings as I should have been. It took me too long to see him. About 20 feet to my right was a 9-foot gator.
He was right there.
And my momentum was carrying me straight to him. I pulled my paddle out of the water and rested the tip on my board and the handle against my shoulder. And then I pulled out my phone to shoot a short video, because that’s always my natural inclination. The way I orchestrated this particular video was a mistake. One of two things should have happened in that moment: 1) Either I should have never pulled out my camera in the first place and tried to back away from this lurking river rat, or 2) I should have risked everything and continued to film what happened next. Because what I actually did is what I always do. I filmed a mediocre plot-point leading up to a climactic moment which I then did NOT film. It is my gift to the world. I never catch the real stuff on camera. Ever.
After making myself about as nervous as I’ve ever been on the river, I put my phone back into my shorts pocket. And at that moment the gator went berserko. He raised up out of the water, flopped spectacularly down onto the surface making a massive splash, and then disappeared into the brown cypress-colored murk leaving a wake behind him.
While I watched with my jaw dropped and my eyes the size of Dora the Explorer’s.
By this point in the sequence, I was less than 10 feet from all the thrashing.
I stood there stifled by panic, with my paddle still perched on my shoulder, and wondered what my next move should be. Do I wait it out and see where he comes up for air? Do I high tail it home? Paddle home but do so gingerly and try not to draw attention to what a fleshy great meal my glutes would make for a wild animal?
Ultimately I chose to high tail it gingerly. I moved fast and cautiously and I didn’t look back. My guess is the alligator went to the bottom and had no intention of eating anything the size of a middle-aged house frau or her paddle board. But guesses like that don’t guarantee safety, so I got out of the water as quickly as I could.
Once I was safely on my deck, I sat on the edge to wait for my heart rate to settle and to ponder the entire day. I had gone out that day as a rebel, not caring much about anything and convinced nothing much cared about me. I had gone looking for peace and trouble on the same river at the same time. In ways, I found them both.
And I came back thinking about the roads paved with good intentions. I’d like to tell you that this gator encounter and my subsequent thinking fixed everything. It didn’t. The day continued to go downhill and I finished it pretty pathetically by climbing into bed at 10 p.m. and turning out the lights. I laid there in the dark for an hour, thinking again about the day. Wondering what my problem was and why I couldn’t just get my junk together. Thinking about my intentions versus my actions. There were things I had intended to do and hadn’t done that might have turned my day around. There were things I should not have done and did do that made the hole I was standing in even deeper. But what I knew for certain was that the next day, today, needed to be different from start to finish.
As I laid in the dark of my bedroom, I set an alarm for 6 a.m. and decided I would force myself out on a short run this morning before the kids got up for school. And then I got a simple text from a faraway friend that read “How was your day?” I decided to answer that text fairly honestly. And in doing so, I took another step toward the better road.
Today was night and day different. Up before sunrise, high functioning, gator respecting, task completing, fun loving different. I stayed out of the river, off the ledge, and added a certain hormones doctor to my contacts for quick future access. Just in case.
Too much information? Yeah, probably. That wasn’t really my intention. But you know what they say about those…