He is returned. Not the angry, sullen, volatile boy I dropped off nine weeks ago. This is some new young man. He is tanned, filled out, less stringy. He smelled of the earth and fire and wet. He stood inside himself differently. I saw all of this fade almost instantaneously upon contact with us. I saw him jump more quickly and appear more nervous and worried. This seemed to continue on as the day unfolded. It made me sad for all of us. That our presence in his life seems to create such anxiety.
I am sure that if I talked to the guides about this they would tell me that it isn’t just us, that what I observed in him yesterday was just how he is. He was nervous and anxious a lot out there. That my son lives with a constant and unrelenting anxiousness that eats at him. Constantly worrying him down to someone who needs a release.
Regardless of the pervasive anxiety, he was happy. I mean really happy, smiling and laughing and present. I also saw that too evaporate with the contact with the outside world. His phone returned and he was captured again. I worried about that but then saw that this was not my battle. He would have to find the strength within himself to turn off the devices and the things that take him away from himself. This is now his struggle, not mine.
It may seem like I was let down. That I was disappointed in him, the program, that there should have been more progress…I am not. I am giving voice to my own unrealistic expectations. My son is my son. He is still plagued with all the issues that are his to deal with in this life. I am still me and I am similarly situated. Expectations are hard to bear and can ruin everything if you let them.
As I see my son now, he is at yet another passage. He haven been given great assets that he lacked before. Skills, legit stories of survival, endurance, tenacity and strength. His most favorite thing was doing service work, helping others by chopping firewood and delivering it to an elderly couple so that they can survive the winter. This is not the boy I brought here. This is absolutely evidence of the changes that have occurred within my son. Hard work and service were not things he ever cared about before.
As my son paddled his canoe towards us waiting on the shore, I saw him seated in his life. Oar in hand, guiding himself and the others toward this life and parental authority. He was not the child I dropped off here. He was some new version of himself that, like all of us, is in process. He was never static and unchangeable. That was just my opinion based upon my own feelings of inadequacy.
He paddled. Guiding himself forward. I watched him do that for the rest of the day. Sometimes, a little awkwardly. I mean how could it be anything else? Combining the parents you love and rebel against and the people who have helped you through many passages unto this new version of himself. That is awkward to say the least.
What I saw was this person who wanted to have possession of his life. Recently introduced to a source of Divinity that had previously been foreign, aloof and absent from him. I saw a newcomer…someone who is set upon a new trajectory and is tender and delicate and very fragile. My son gained strength and sinew here, but his soul, his soul and heart are still soft, shaded in their youth.
I wanted to hold him all day. Scoop him up into my lap and just rock him. That would not be appropriate given his age but nevertheless that is what I wanted to do all day. Hold him in my lap to give him something that he needed, comfort, security, love. I touched him as much and as tenderly as I could. I looked at him with loving eyes and held him as often as would not seem weird or inappropriate. Wanting desperately to reach and care for that verdant youngness within him that is just beginning to sprout.
I wanted to talk of God and love and the universe. I did not want to talk of things on his phone. I wanted him to marvel in this Alaskan landscape with me, taking notice of every eagle and ripple on the shore. But this kind of appreciation only comes with age. Well, maybe not always but the wonder might. Wonder might be something that is only for the very young and the aged. The middle part of life being too busy with other worldly concerns for time to wonder at what eagles see, what whales know, what forces bring the rain, how one could ever be so lucky as to see seven rainbows in a day…
As the day moved on, I realized that any dissatisfaction that I held was my own. Based on my own expectations and station in life. I cannot judge him where he stands because I am not there and barely remember being 16. And the 16 I was, was way more fucked up than he has ever been.
Sitting at lunch with all the guides, I watched him attempt to navigate the social, the turn taking, the eating, the ego. I watched us all try to do that. Some of us better than others. I realized that social settings are really fraught with treacherous turns and twists. None of us really ever knowing what to say or do. I watched him do a damn fine job of handling his two very different worlds colliding. I watched him love and care and appreciate all that he had longed and missed.
There were no cross words. There were no hard moments. A whole day with no problems. I cannot remember the last time we had that kind of day…
What I realized about my own expectations was that I thought that paddling around Alaska would change him to a point where he would be good to go. On some level, I believed that he was going to be forever altered. What I saw yesterday is that he was given the skill of paddling and that he, like all of us, has more paddling to do. Now he must practice, hone his skill, paddle forward into his new life in Montana.
One cannot really paddle from Alaska to Montana, so the journey and the paddling will be metaphorical. But this is life for all of us. We are all tasked with odysseys: internal and external. We all wish for a beginning and a middle and end. But that is not really life or how it works. We are provided an oar with our first breath of life and die with it in our hand. What we do with it in between the two is each of our journeys in this world. Some of us never put the oar in water, instead beat it against the rocky shores of our lives in an attempt to avoid disaster…never willing to climb aboard the unstable craft and set sail. Other of us hug the shore, oar to water but afraid to launch too far from camp. Still others seem to innately know that paddling is what we are meant to do in this life, from one camp to another, moving forward always but never under the same conditions. Small craft advisories are frequent for mostly internal storms.
So we leave this wild place today, each of us with our oar. All of us knowing how to paddle, when to paddle, and that we are solely responsible for the effort. I pray that my son doesn’t forget that the steering is not really our job. We are led by Divinity whether we believe in it or not. Life always having other plans for us. And all we can do, all we can really do, is continue to be willing to paddle on aligning our will with the weather conditions, the seas and tides. Moving forward into the next whatever comes, oar in hand and willingness to go in the direction we are led and not always where we wish.
Navigation and taking the laboring oar are time consuming tasks that are not easily done together. Each taking different skills and effort. As I watch my son now, I do so with the knowledge that he is always being guided by the loving hand of the universe. And that his only real job ever is to remain willing to paddle on…