Thursday, March 17, 2005

Perspective is Everything

There was a time when I perceived my life to be out of joint. I'd only been married a short while and my husband had chosen to take a job that kept him away from home for weeks at a time. I was not happy. I told him I didn't get married to live life as a single woman. He told me he had a five year plan. I brooded and almost told him that if he intended to live that five year plan he could live it with someone else.

Then I did something very stupid. I borrowed a friend's one-man rubber raft and launched out, alone, onto the Yukon River. I figured it would take me three days to get to my friend's cabin and by the end of that three days I had to make up my mind about my marriage.

I wasn't far from the spot where I'd launched myself onto the river, when I realized I was totally committed to doing what I'd said I'd do. I couldn't go back - the fast Yukon current only flows one way - and it was obvious I'd put myself in an extremely vulnerable position. It only takes two minutes to die in the silty waters of the Yukon River. I was alone, in a rubber raft barely big enough to hold me, and I wasn't even exactly sure where I was going. The raft was also missing a paddle, which meant every time I took a stroke I went in circles, so it took a long time to get from one side of the river to the other.

But after drifting for several hours I began to relax into a sense that there was something huge around me - something much bigger, much more significant than my problems or my vulnerability. The Yukon winds through some beautiful country and as my little craft swirled slowly toward Alaska, I began to feel the immensity of it. I watched rain sweep down through valleys and rifts in the hillsides, clouds scudding so low they seemed like messengers, and rainbows shifting within the mist like flags of promise. I smelled the sweetness of a slope of poplar trees and the earthiness of fresh bear dung. I saw salmon flipped from the water by fish wheels driven by the momentum of the current and bald eagles perched on the swaying tops of spruce trees, waiting.

And by the time I reached my destination I had gained perspective. My problems seemed not quite so momentous, not quite so life-shaking. I decided my marriage was something I had committed to, with all the resident possibilities of failure and danger, and all the vulnerability, just like that river trip.

Writing is a lot like that too. It's a commitment that opens your mind to accept not only your vulnerabilities, but also a widened perspective on your work. You sense there is something much bigger happening than just the mere words printed on a page. You begin to see the beauty and vastness of the country around you. You realize you may be the tiniest part of it, but that there is purpose there. It is your country, this river you have launched yourself onto, and there is no going back. You begin to realize there is much you are to learn from the journey.

There have been times when I've wanted to give up, wanted to tell God he could rope someone else into this "write" plan. But then I launch out, in my little rubber raft called a poem or a short story or a novel, and my perspective changes. I glimpse the bigness. I relax. I engage in the joy.

I'm still committed to my marriage and I hope I'll remain committed to the gift of words God has given me. It's a very small raft but it keeps me afloat.

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