FIGHTING IN TANDEM
It started out well. We hauled our kayak down to the river and set in on a warm afternoon. I took my seat in the front, my husband pushed off and hopped in the back. We paddled out onto the water, the sun glistening on the surface. Boats cruised in the distance, kids splashed along the shoreline. We paddled in sync, riding the waves from boat wakes as we neared the middle of the channel.
Then I heard him say something like, “where are you going?”. Huh? We were in a tandem kayak, I couldn’t be headed a different direction than him, that’s kind of not possible. Clearly I was heading upstream like we always did but I paused to turn halfway to ask him what he was talking about. He said something like, “well you’re paddling heavy on the right and skipping strokes so I don’t know where you’re heading.” Excuse me? I defended my synchronous and even paddling strokes and said something like, “I wasn’t favoring the right side and I didn’t realize I was skipping any strokes…” Silence. It was at that point that I rested the paddle across my lap and just sat there.
He realized I wasn’t helping us get anywhere any time soon, we were paddling upstream and we had a headwind. He asked something like, “what’s the problem? Just stop steering us to the left and we’ll be fine” (I’m summing up the best I can from memory). Well since I didn’t realize I had been steering us to the left I got rather annoyed. I started paddling again rather vigorously, proving that I was indeed good at steering perfectly straight (thank you very much). After a few minutes, I noticed a huffing sound behind me. I glanced over my shoulder to see him paddling robustly. I asked, “why are you working so hard?”. His response indicated that I had been steering us to the left (again) and he was paddling harder opposite of me to keep us on course. Are you kidding me? I tried defending myself again, but he couldn’t hear me as I paddled and faced forward. My voice was lost in the wind. I stopped paddling and turned to speak.
He was getting frustrated because I could hear him but he couldn’t hear me. I was frustrated because I could hear him but I couldn’t be heard. I rested the paddle on my lap again and sat fuming. I was stuck on a kayak arguing with someone and couldn’t get away. So much for fight or flight. Maybe when you’re on the water it’s fight or float. After a minute, he asked what was wrong. He didn’t ask it in a snide way, but in an innocent-he-really-didn’t-know-what-my-problem-was kind of way. I realized he wasn’t at fault; I was just getting grumpy because I felt like my form was being critiqued as he sat behind me. He had the best vantage point and was honestly just trying to tell me what he saw me doing.
I sighed. I told him I was sorry, I was trying my best and to let me know if I needed to paddle in a different way. He paused from paddling and said that the current could be giving us trouble, along with the wind and that I was doing a good job. We just needed to keep working together to keep moving forward. Each time I had stopped paddling it slowed us down and made him work harder.
We both dug our paddles in the water and cruised upriver.
Working together, heading the same direction, enjoying our time in tandem.
This wasn’t our first kayak trip. It started out just like all the others as it was a great, but windy day. We packed up our gear, got the kayak on top of the jeep, and headed down to the Columbia. We carted the kayak and gear down to the river and set off. It started like all the others with great scenery and my beautiful wife. Our kayaking skills are improving and we are getting more comfortable working together so we can enjoy what this wonderful area has to offer. It such a blessing that my wife is willing to try new adventures and experience new blessings.
Almost immediately after setting off, I noticed something different. We were veering to the left more than usual. The wind and the current has a big part of this, but something seemed off. Since I was responsible for steering, I tried to correct by paddling harder on the left to force us more to the right. This is not uncommon as my wife has wanted to do some subtle steering to be clear of “hazards” that might be a mile a way. But again, this was different. I was increasingly putting in more and more effort to correct our position. I was audibly getting very winded and losing energy. Finally the non-verbal communication was kicking in and my wife was wondering what the big problem was.
I have never had great hearing nor a good memory, but chemotherapy in 2013 really hindered these key areas. Paddling up stream, in the wind, being anaerobic from correcting our steering, and my lovely wife facing away from me, hearing her is a very, very large challenge for me. Even though I can only see her pony tail, back muscles and her paddle, I noticed that she was getting very frustrated as well. She said something very important, but all I could hear was like the teacher’s voice from Charlie Brown. I paused for a few seconds to try use my best algorithms to make out what she said. My calculations ended up with “cannot divide by zero”. I said “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you.
With her sharp head-turn to the left and the pony tail flailing around, I heard “I SAID!!!!!!!…..” and then something very important…that I don’t remember. What I do remember is my head slouching low and feeling like was I a beaten puppy.
Then the kayak trip got a lot better. But why? After decades of being together, we know how to resolve conflict really well. It is amazing how things can escalate quickly and how our perceptions can be totally different. Just after a few minutes, we were able to understand what the other person was going through and we were able to have another great trip.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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