Awkward is the easy part.
It’s the beautiful I have a problem with.
This Beautifully Awkward Project isn’t easy. I have a great list of ideas from you all, from yoga class to community service to block parties. I will choose another for the next of three installments on this endeavor I’ve taken on with fellow blogger Melissa Bond.
For round 1, I took to the seas. And by seas, I mean a flat-water lake as part of the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
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As I mentioned a week ago, I gravitate toward the easy. Who doesn’t?
We talk with people like us. Or who we wish we were like. I’ve felt a strangely bi lately. By that I mean both extroverted and introverted. So to accept a simple invitation to a work-sponsored event seemed awkward enough.
Here’s what I thought: Me, pushing 43, hanging with the millennial crowd at work. I’d blend in with all the kayaking and rock-climbing and zip-lining they do.
Then I’d nosh (is that what they call it?) with them and maybe even wash it down with some obscure micro-brew and cap it off on a blanket listening to the unique sound of a local band called Rhetorical Delicate or Grandpa of Gap.
I’d contribute to conversations I never have before.
I’d entreat them to tales of times I vanquished class 4 rapids just like I did way back during the Bush administration. The FIRST Bush administration.
I’d listen, and add to the conversation, and my age and bum ankle and pair of jeans manufactured when they were in junior high wouldn’t even matter.
That’s me. I’m the guy in the soaked jeans, in the yellow kayak. The one stuck in a tangle of driftwood.
That’s also me. The guy at the corner of the outdoor dinner table, unable to muster a word to contribute to any conversation, let alone find a moment to edge one in. Not that I’d know which microbrew to order if I could ever find a waitress.
I mean … a server.
So all of this raced through my mind as I guestimate my glucose levels, given that when I first got stuck in the driftwood, I felt like I was bombing. At least 30 minutes ago. “No one has ever fallen out of a kayak in the flat waters,” the girl also younger than my jeans said authoritatively. I might make history.
So I escaped my gnarly lot the only way I knew how – the land of make-believe.
For enough moments, I was no longer the Generation X holdover stuck in a kayak with his feet planted firmly in the slots just past the kiddo size.
I was the hero battling the odds, fighting off a simultaneous octopus-and-shark attack, with several poison laced darts being fired at me.
I backed up against the current, and with several ounces of water rushing into my plastic casket, angled my kayak back toward the storm surge and powered my vessel out of harm’s way.
I paddled furiously to rescue my female antagonist, played by Jennifer Lawrence, perhaps, or Naomi Watts or more probably the mom from Malcolm in the Middle.
I had to reach her before Kevin Bacon happened upon me, insulted my heritage, and shot me right there in my boat, like in The River Wild.
That hero state never lasts, though. Just ask Walter Mitty.
Instead, I found myself paddling like mad, but going nowhere still, even out of the grasp of the dastardly driftwood. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you think you’re playing Pac-man and really killing it, just to realize it’s not you, it’s a demo, and … please enter quarter.
This is all OK, because I went.
I geared up with my mediocre kayak (I expected one that covered my legs like in the Olympics. Or at least had tricked out colors. I got banana yellow). I donned a life vest doused with SOSOG (Sweat of Some Other Guy) and I confidently ordered a Cowboy Burger when my server got around to me.
I showed up and nodded and smiled and even said goodbye to a co-worker or two on my way out, and I don’t even think anyone was offended I didn’t stick around to hear Wumpus Pelvis or Soiled Camelot or whoever would grace that stage any minute now.
I tugged my National Whitewater Center cap tightly on my brow, and strutted as well as a Gen X warrior with sore abs and mild lower-back pain could, paying no mind to the grizzled outdoor vets who actually bring their own life vest doused with their own sweat.
I limped, really, until I heard the familiar chords.
I could fill your cup
You know my river won’t evaporate
This world we still appreciate …
Got a family to love, coupla teams to coach, and a blog to write. That’s Safe and Sound.
And that’s beautiful enough for me.