The Cold River

Years ago, when my three sons were little boys, my uncle brought his son and daughter down for a visit from Washington State.  I hadn’t spent much time around my niece and nephew, but the entire family was excited to see them.  Everyone who was able gathered at my dad’s house out by Saguaro Lake, Arizona for a little family reunion.

The Saguaro Lake house was such a fun place.  It is where I spent most of my younger years growing up and making memories.  It is one of five houses in a gated community dedicated to SRP (Salt River Project) employees.  The dam that holds Saguaro Lake is up the road about a quarter of a mile from the gated community.  There is a small resort and horse ranch along the short road between the gated community and the dam.  It is a beautiful area.  Flowing out of the dam and right by the horse ranch and the SRP homes is a river.  It is beautiful and green along the river, which flows in between the homes of the gated community and Bulldog Mountain.  The mountain literally climbs straight up from the edge of the river.  It is a beautiful, incredible place to have grown up.  I consider myself lucky to have been raised in such an environment.

I remember having friends over on a Friday night, after school.  We would hang out, play on the rope swing in the back yard, and sometimes by dad would build a fire, where we would roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories.  Afterwards, we would get our pillows and blankets and go out to the trampoline and talk for hours as we looked up at the stars.

Sometimes, we would wake up to noises under the trampoline.  It was usually a pack of Javelinas.  The smaller, baby pigs were so cute.  We were always told to stay on the trampoline so that the adult Javelinas wouldn’t get spooked and gore us with their tusks.  It was a little frightening, but fun, to be so close to them and see them feeding on the lush, green grass underneath the trampoline.

So, when my uncle pulled up with my niece and nephew, we were all excitedly waiting.  I hadn’t seen my niece since she was a little girl and I had never met my nephew.  Everyone hugged.  It seemed like it was a little awkward and uncomfortable for them.  We were family, but we didn’t know them very well, and they didn’t know us at all.  I remember eating and sitting around the fire pit as all of the kids ran around and chased each other.  My niece and nephew kind of kept to themselves most of the time, probably plotting methods of escaping this crazy family gathering.  We all decided to take the 10 minute walk down to the river and let the kids throw rocks and play.

It doesn’t sound like much, but the quick walk led through the beautiful desert and brush, opening up to a beautiful sight, displaying the steep Bulldog mountain just on the other side of about 30 feet of slowly moving, dark, cold water.

It was the middle of February.  Many of us were wearing sweatshirts.  It was chilly outside, and the water was really cold.  I watched my sons skip rocks across the river.  I threw a couple of rocks into the water and looked over to my cousins.  They seemed unhappy to be there.  I could see they were feeling uncomfortable.  It was either inspiration or stupidity, but I decided we should do something they would always remember.  I asked my nephew, Nick, “Are you feeling tough today?”  He looked at me, confused.  I explained that we should swim across the river and jump off of a big boulder we could see there on the other side.  At first, he thought I was joking.  Then, seeing I was serious, he walked up to the water and touched it with his hand.  His eyes widened as he felt the cold water.  It was damn cold.  I started to undress.  He told me, “If you’re doing it, so am I!”  I replied with, “Okay!  Let’s do it then.”  We stripped down to our boxers and started to wade in.  Everyone there thought we were crazy.  They were hollering and letting out wolf whistles and laughing.

When we were thigh-deep in the water, we looked at each other.  We were having problems breathing.  The water was so cold.  I wanted to back out and jump back into my dry, warm clothes, but I wanted to make sure he had a fun memory from his Arizona trip, so instead,  I jumped into the water and started to swim across.  At 15 years old, I have to give him credit.  As much as I’m sure he also wanted to back out of the deal he dove into the water right after me!  We could barely suck air into our lungs as we swam across the cold river.  I could feel my muscles seizing up, but I kept going.  So did he.  We crossed over as quickly as we could.

As we reached the other side of the river we climbed out of the water and onto a big rock.  Our bodies were shaking uncontrollably.  We looked over to the boulder we had decided to jump off before we swam across the river.  It was about 20 feet away.

I looked at Nick.  He looked worried.  I couldn’t feel my feet.  It was at this point I started to think maybe we had made a mistake.

“Do you still want to jump off of that boulder?  I mean, we already came this far, Nick.  You doing okay?”

“Dude-I seriously can’t feel my feet.  That water was colder than I thought it was going to be.”

I tried to act all tough and like everything was cool, but I was thinking the same thing.

By now, our bodies were shaking uncontrollably.  Nick said, “Let’s just swim back.  I don’t think I can walk across all of those rocks to get to that bolder.”  I agreed, but not so quickly that I would seem wimpy.

“Okay.  Let’s go!”  We jumped back into the water.

It felt like a thousand knives stabbing me all over my body at the same time.  I was nervous, but I knew I could make it.  Nick was starting to struggle.  “I don’t think I can make it!”  I swam a little closer to him, just in case he needed help.  I glanced across the river to where our family was now looking extremely concerned.  All of the kids were yelling words of encouragement to us.  “You can make it!  Keep going!”  My kids were looking worried, as well.  I watch my Uncle Joe, Nick’s dad, start to head down stream, already getting prepared to rescue our limp, lifeless, drowned bodies.

“I can’t!”  Nick went under.  I raced to where he went under the water and felt around.  I touched his back as he was starting to descend deeper into the dark, cold water.  I grabbed him and pulled him back up to the top of the water.  I pushed him in front of me and yelled at him, “You’ve got this!  Keep going!”  He swam with all he had.  So did I.  We made it to the other side, where our family was waiting for us.  We could barely crawl out of the water and onto the little rocks which covered the river bank.  Our feet felt like they were frozen and our bodies started to shake uncontrollably, once again.  Everyone started handing us our clothes.  We dressed as quickly as we could, for how much our freezing bodies were shaking.  Everyone was quiet and wide-eyed.  Even the kids.

I have no regrets.   Neither does Nick.  He got the memory of a lifetime out of his Arizona trip, and even though we still don’t talk or know each other very well, that was a memory that will bond us together, forever.

Sometimes in this life we do foolish things, all in the name of a fun adventure or in order to make a memory.  Sometimes we have to dig deep and find the strength to get through it.  Other times we need help.  Sometimes we fail, and that is okay.  Failure creates character.  It provides the opportunity to experience difficulty, stress, heartache, and defeat.  Through these things we can learn persistence, the value of hard work and consistency, and we can learn that failing at something isn’t the end of the world.  Through failing, we can acquire tools and new skill sets that will help us be more successful in our lives and enable us to help others along the way.

It is through trauma, pain, and struggle that we are given the opportunity to become stronger and acquire strength and skills and new tools.  It is through this acquisition of strength and skills and new tools that we become more valuable and effective and able to help and serve others.

I’m grateful, every day, for family and friends.  It is a good strategy for each us to surround ourselves with strong, reliable, wise, experienced people who have our best interest at heart.  Many of them have been through difficulties, failures, and experienced things that can and will help us, if we allow it.

Miracles happen every, single day-usually through the people we choose to surround ourselves with.  Sometimes miracles can’t happen, ever, because of the people we choose to surround ourselves with.  The choice is ours.

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