Life’s Flips: How Do We Respond When Things Go Wrong

Things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. One moment, all appears well. The next moment, everything can change. No matter how well we plan, we can’t protect ourselves from life’s upsets. One of my favorite Yiddish expressions: “Mann Tracht, und Gott Lacht.” (Man/woman plans, and God laughs.) It’s not what happens to us, but how we respond, that matters the most. We can respond with disappointment and anger, or we can look for the miracles and divine interventions.

Here’s an example. In July, Joyce and I finished our Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs and headed south to raft the Rogue River. One problem. When we got into southern Oregon, we encountered more and more smoke. At the ranger station to pick up our permit, the smoke was so thick it irritated our lungs. Still, the ranger on duty informed us that the forest fire burning down river was not bad enough to stop people from rafting. She said, “The two of you are the only ones hesitating to go. Everyone else has put in. If you cancel your permit, you will be blacklisted and not allowed to have a permit the rest of this year and next year!” In spite of her pressure, Joyce and I had to listen to our inner guidance. We just couldn’t go. We cancelled our permit.

Disappointed, we decided on plan B, the Klamath River in northern California. Not the wilderness of the Rogue, with a road following the river, but still beautiful in its own way. And we could breathe!

We set off in our twelve-foot raft and had a wonderful two days and nights on the river. On the third day, we approached a class III rapid named “Otter’s Playpen.” This was only our second time on this particular stretch of the Klamath, and the last time we came through I didn’t remember having any problems. But now the river level was low because of the drought year. The only route that looked clear was a narrow slot on the right side of the river. I shipped my oars and entered the slot. I watched helplessly as the front left corner of the raft caught on the rock. Before I could react, the back of the raft quickly swung around to the right and we were sideways blocking the narrow channel.  

Joyce and I were astonished by how fast our raft flipped. One moment we were enjoying a lovely river trip, and the next moment the raft was upside down in the river with the two of us dumped into the water floating behind the raft. I shouted for Joyce to swim to shore, then grabbed onto the boat and tried, in vain, to pull it to shore. It was way too heavy and the current too strong. As the raft and I approached the next class III rapid, Fort Goff Falls, I realized the danger and let go of the boat. After I watched the raft disappear over the lip of the falls, I turned to swim to shore and find Joyce. She was scared but safe, clutching her paddle in both hands. 

I told her I would run after the boat, and she should come as quickly as she could. We both expected the raft would soon be caught in an eddy on the side of the river, and we would see each other in mere minutes. I learned later that this stretch of the Klamath had no calm stretches.

About a mile downriver, I was sloshing along the shallow river shore when I happened to notice a tiny spot of blue between some river vegetation. Reaching down, I picked up my favorite water bottle. Clearly this was a miracle gift from God, since I was thirsty and, although I did not know it, I still had four more miles of arduous hiking, climbing, swimming, and bush-whacking ahead of me, during which I did not find one more item of loose equipment. 

 Meanwhile, Joyce walked a very difficult two and a half miles without seeing me or our boat. Scared, tired, thirsty, scratched and bloody, she came upon a lone house on the river bank. She knocked on the door and was met by a woman who took one look at her, probably thought she was an intruder, got scared and dialed 911. The sheriff’s deputy, who soon arrived with sirens blaring, immediately saw that Joyce was not dangerous, invited her into his patrol car and began the search for me.

Five miles and two hours after the flip, I swam yet another rapid, entered the first quiet pool, and there was the raft. As soon as I pulled it to the side of the river, the patrol car pulled down a dirt road to the river and out stepped Joyce, still holding her paddle. The deputy had been searching along the river, occasionally stopping and calling my name into his loudspeaker. Finally he gave up and was just about to request a helicopter when Joyce spotted me and the raft through the brush and trees. Even though he was on the wrong side of the river to actually help, he stayed for the hour to make sure the two “senior citizens” unloaded and flipped their boat right side up. Then he met us at the next available take-out a few miles downriver, and drove me an hour out of his way to our truck.

If we have eyes to see, life is a never-ending series of miracles and divine interventions. Yes, Joyce and I were both disappointed by the smoke on the Rogue River. Yes, spending many more hours stripping our upside down raft of gear, turning the boat right side up, floating around the bend to the next take-out, spreading wet food, sleeping bags, clothes, and other gear in the sun to dry, then packing everything up in our camper for the trip home, was not our idea of a vacation. Yet it’s impossible to ignore how divine hands helped us every moment. Yes, life will flip you over from time to time. Your invitation is to realize that life’s upsets can deepen your trust and faith, and allow you to see from a spiritual perspective.

Driving home from our aborted river trip, I checked my cell phone messages: “Hello, this is Rogue River Ranger Taylor. I’m calling to apologize to you and your wife for threatening you with blacklisting because you cancelled your trip. All the other people who put on the river the day you cancelled had to be evacuated. We’ve taken your name off the blacklist, and would like to offer you a permit for next year.”
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