I thought of the mother of the murdered girl in "The Lovely Bones" who cut and ran. She ditched her family and went out west to work in a vineyard. I did not respect her decision, although I could see why she'd made it. It felt tempting as Tim and I began our drive. But I'm more of a stay-er, a sifter, a sorter, than someone who runs away. Usually.
We could have bagged this trip again, the way we did last summer, but we really, really wanted to try it. The tension between us diffused and was gone by the time we hit the curvy mountain roads and pulled up to our camping spot. A handful of teenage boys, including Jack's favorite cousin, tossed a ball around and grabbed cheese balls by the handful out of a huge plastic barrel. Ouch.
Margaret and the rest of the crew were about to go tubing on the river. I hadn't seen her in almost a week, so I said I'd go too, even though I was nervous. I wanted to reconnect and be brave. Margaret and her cousin pulled out ahead of us with the teenagers and adults, and I didn't see them again.
Before I knew it, I was sharing a raft with three very chatty elementary aged kids we'd known for years but only saw on these trips. Once we started down the river, there would be no getting out for the next two hours; we just had to float where the river took us. No cutting and running here. Our first camping trip without Jack, at our same familiar campsite. Surrounded by beautiful, suntanned teen aged boys. Floating on a river of.....WATER....and being charged with keeping three kids alive. It was a lot.
In some ways it couldn't have been better. I had to stay focused on the children, so I was less focused on missing Jack. Also, little kids have no filters, so our conversations ranged from the joys of peeing in a river to "I'm just so sorry Jack died." "We miss Jack." "What happened to Jack?" "Does a body keep growing once it's buried in the ground?" I explained that Jack's body was cremated, which means it was burned up not buried. "I'd hate to have to watch that," said one of my little buddies and I agreed that I would too. We talked a little about God and a lot about their classmates at school and spiders. It felt good to just get it all out there. How many times have I wanted to say to someone, "I'm sorry so and so died" but have held back?
On the raft, I had to be the responsible adult, the cheerleader, the motivator, not just the broken one, and it felt good.
A huge bald eagle swooped down and sailed right over us then on up the river. We whooped and hollered. Nature was beautiful. Yes, it was dangerous, and unpredictable, but it was also good.
At one point our raft got hung up on a tree stump in the water. This had never happened to me before. I couldn't dislodge it for some time, and I became afraid. The wide, peaceful river was NOTHING like the raging creek that took Jack's life. Nothing. But I was still scared. It had started to rain. We decided we were: cold, tired, scared, hungry, and we all had to pee. During our stuck time, as the water rushed around me and I stood on slippery rocks in the river trying to dislodge the raft, I told the kids that this would be a great time for us all to pee, so we did, and we laughed, our teeth chattering and lips turning blue.
A few minutes later, we were safely ashore again, ready for campfires, fried food, and lightning bugs.
Last year this trip would have been too much. This year it was do-able.
This whole spring and summer has been about making decisions about our family's future. It has been a mix of discerning when to revisit the traditions of the past and when to cut and run. There is not one right way.
But we are glad we choose to camp.
When we got off the rafts, the rain stopped and we had a rainbow!
Then, when we glanced at this photo my nephew took of the fire, we thought the guy on the right looked a wee bit familiar. What do YOU think?
We now have a Facebook page! Would you "like" An Inch of Gray on Facebook?