Finding the familiar

It didn’t take long, out there in the canoe, the familiar feeling of gliding on the water is like reconnecting somewhere within my soul, like coming home.  The paddle cuts into the water and smoothly passes down and out again. My muscles smile with the familiarity. Peace. Paddling. Content and calm.

Is it possible for a heart to sing? I feel the rhythm of the movement propelling confidently forward. The sun soaking into my skin puts a smile on my face.  And there it is too, the loud exhalation of my canoe partner to pierce my bubble of contentment. It’s soon followed by “you want to make us go in circles?” Not long after he tells me not to bother paddling and when I restart that I’m paddling too fast. Then he tells me not to look behind because I’m affecting the canoe’s path. I long to paddle strong. I yearn too for the freedom to be me, to learn, to experience the canoe independently. Instead, I’m told where to cast my lure when I pick up the rod. And then, “no wonder you don’t catch anything, you don’t let out enough line.”

While he is the man I love so much and his presence enables me to be out on the water, I feel like my spirit diminishes, my joy deflates and my energy drains.  What would it feel like to be one with nature, paddling and learning to adjust my stroke in my own way in my own time? I’ll probably never try it on my own because whatever confidence I have swiftly evaporates when I see his disapproval. “It’s not my fault you choose to take everything so personally,” he says.

I close my eyes as I hear his cast zing out over the water and the lure plops into the surface and I focus on the sweet songs of the birds and the hum of the flies as they whiz past my ears. The sound of the paddle entering the water with not quite a splash is so different from everyday sounds. I can’t help thinking of the work canoe trip I once experienced. I was told I was a good paddler; was it a lie or was it a dream? Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave and go out on my own, I think, but what if I learn I am not able to paddle – what if he’s right?

Funny how many times in my life I’ve chosen not to do something so I won’t have to face if I’m not good at whatever it might be.

The dream we share is to work towards a retirement near the water where canoeing, fishing and being outdoors will be our everyday. Then the worry creeps in. Can we ever get to the point where we can canoe collaboratively in partnership? Will I ever paddle in a way that doesn’t require his constant disapproval and correction? Could someone teach me? Am I teachable? Even with expert instruction I doubt I’d ever paddle to his satisfaction. It’s the same each time. I have such anticipation, just joy and content and then it crashes down and I feel inadequate, insufficient and just sad.

My soul longs to soar but he tethers me to doubt, to limitation. I want to glide freely across the water but instead it becomes one more example of my inferiority and I push it down and pretend it doesn’t matter.

I reflect and the words of Robert Frost interrupt my thoughts:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

With a thud it hits me, am I even choosing to travel a road? Or am I wondering what’s down the path but letting self-doubt hold me back from discovery? I’m fifty. What am I waiting for, when do I allow myself to break free? I guess I always have a choice and maybe I need to give myself permission to make it.

alone in the canoe
Giving myself permission, photo by Genevieve Wakutz