I don’t remember knowing Sherod without hearing about The River. He’s a river-town boy, with endless stories about what happens on the river: learning to ski, boating, swimming, laughing, drinking too much, letting the river carry his life, his loves. There are the harrowing stories, though, fortunately, not many. The worst was the time he, his wife, children and friends had pulled their boats on the sandbar everyone liked to hang out on, when his 4-year old son was pulled under the boat by the current. If not for a friend who saw it happen and was able to pull Charlie out…
It’s the kind of story that makes any parent’s hands go clammy.
I grew up far from the ocean in Colombia, surrounded by the Andes, familiar with rivers that ran fast down mountainsides, occasionally, dropping off for hundreds of feet in cascades and waterfalls. We had some friends whose farm included a waterhole that was deep and cold and exhilarating and I can still see in my mind’s eye, my brother Hans about to leap from a boulder high above me, wondering what gave someone the courage to jump like that, telling myself “it would be bad for my hip to jump” though in truth, it was mainly fear that kept me treading carefully in the water. Though rivers crisscrossed my childhood, they were always destinations—places we’d go to, not part of the warp and woof of life.
I’ve lived in New Orleans, in Nashville and in Memphis, all with rivers, two of them with The river, the Mississippi—but they were not my rivers. All those years in Fort Lauderdale, we lived on the water, but a tamed and imprisoned river, bent and straightened to the will of folks with a definite vision of what the swamps of Florida could be forced into becoming. I rode my paddleboard, helped steer two motor boats and a sailboat down those waters, got so I knew every curve and sinew of the waterway that took us out to the really big water, the Atlantic, and somehow, it was a place I lived in but it was not mine nor did it claim me as its own.
About 5 years ago, things had gotten bad. Sherod was in constant pain that had been diagnosed as back problems but would eventually turn out to be two terribly arthritic hips that needed to be replaced. I kept taking him to a pain management clinic where he’d be given shots in his spinal column that were supposed to be magical and never were. The conflict in the ministry we were both working in was growing and getting ugly, Maria was struggling, so much was unraveling, even before we could see it clearly. The last thing on our mind was going out on the boat—no time, no energy, no desire.
When we bought this, the fourth boat we owned as a couple, we named it One More Chance—the names of our boats tracing the passage of time in our marriage: Los Locos, Promise, No Name, and finally, One More Chance. One more chance for what? Happiness? Adventure? Playfulness? It was never clear to me and in those last 3 years we spent in Fort Lauderdale, the boat sat out on its davit, from time to time, a source of irritation for me: why have it if we weren’t going to use it.
These last two years have been busy ones. Busy in the best sense possible. Sherod’s retirement. I rebuilding my life and sense of vocation. Allowing roots to go deep into this land we love, loving in new ways—both each other, and the many creatures and people who now inhabit our life.
Then, on Tuesday, one more chance. A new beginning that was a return. After tinkering with the motor, lots of time carefully cleaning and preparing and restoring, Sherod hitched the trailer of One More Chance to his new truck; he, Maria and I piled into the truck cabin and carefully drove to a boat ramp nearby. When One More Chance was tied up at the small dock by the ramp, we got in, each took the seats we’ve always claimed, and headed out on the river. The river. The Alabama River. Isn’t it funny how one more chance sometimes means coming right back to where you started from, allowing who you are to reclaim you, and discovering that the happiness is both the same and brand new. The boy is back on his river.