Sunday, August 24, 2003

Down Scream

We arrived at the spot, same as last year. The Hatzbani looked fuller, and they had done some work in the river bed so that our entry spot was no longer a quiet pool leading into some fun-looking rapids, but an eddy current that had to be gotten past before entering a torrent that took you over a waterfall. Well, that's how the kids saw it - not much of a waterfall, 1/2 a meter at most. More challenging, more exciting, almost irresistable.

We left the kids there with the life-jackets and went to fill up the inner tubes at a filling station not far away. We had taken some spares, but we were on the edge as one after another proved leaky. Finally, a string of good one, just enough. Then, we dropped the second car at the pick-up point, and came back. The kids hadn't yet put on the lifejackets, naturally, so we helped them in. All the big kids wanted to do the "waterfall", so Elisha, 17, and his friend, Avishai, set off despite our protests to stick together. They went over the waterfall smoothy and easily, with shouts of glee, so the three 15-year old girls went next. They were holding hands as they approached the fall, and, fearful that they would be tossed around too much while chained together, I yelled at them to let go. They did so, and their departure came off without a hitch. Shalhevet, 13, wanted to do the waterfall, too, but her friend, Yochi, was trepidacious, so Shalhevet was persuaded to go with Yochi and Yoni, my "co-father" from the other family.

Finally, it came time for Yinon. 11, and I to take off. He REALLY wanted to do the waterfall, and I REALLY wanted him to not feel babied, so we went together - I took the biggest innertube with a spare tied to me, he went first with me right behind.

Everyone says that you can't drown on the Hatzbani. Yinon is a good swimmer, we both had carefully-fastened lifejackets...

Immediately after going over the fall, Yinon lost his innertube and was being swept away down stream. I was already right behind him, so I leapt off my inner tube and grabbed him, holding tightly to both precious son and precious inner tube.

We were terrified. The current after the astonishing rainfall last winter so many months behind us was nothing like I remembered it last year. The water was probably waistdeep, perhaps chestdeep in most places, but there was no way I could stand. Yinon went under a couple times, but came right back up. Without the protection of an inner tube, we were being smashed against the rocks repeatedly, especially me, as I tried in vain to get a foothold. I could feel my toes being shredded (or so it seemed), my shins battered. FINALLY, we came to a place where I could hold out against the current. We made for the side, I untied the spare, sent Yinon off as I mounted the big one and followed. The current was still swift, and, I had forgotten, it threw you against the roots and flotsam at each bend. We headed straight for an eddy littered with roots, driftwood, and an old loading pallet. I was able to push Yinon away from it, but I went straight in, and was stuck. I couldn't swim out on the tube against the current, and to try to re-enter the main flow via roothold meant being dashed against the nail-studded pallet. I was frantic - who knew if Yinon could manage the next section, before it quieted down, by himself - I had to get out, but try as I might, I made no progress. I beseeched the Almighty for assistance, and... He gave it!

In the following form: I calmed down, began thinking, and realized that I could probably clamber out of the stream onto the previously inaccessible-looking bank via the roots, and it might be possible to reenter downstream. I did this, and it turned out that placid reentry point was literally 10 meters away, just past the turn in the river.

The others in the party were waiting for me, including Yinon. Another tube had gone flat, so Yinon relinquished his tube and Yinon and I shared a tube. With Yinon perched upon me, we made our unwieldy way down the Hatzbani. We fell off several more times, but nothing like our experience up stream. Thus, the rest of the journey might have been just as idyllic as it had been last year, but for the lingering effects of our initial traumas, and one more thing.

The entire group regrouped about 1/2 through the journey and set off again. As we were going down stream, I heard a commotion and looked back. A girl, one of ours, had been run over by a rubber boat and had gone under the boat. I saw her come up, make for the side, but then I lost sight of here. It was Shalhevet, my daughter!!

I was once again frantic. The current made it impossible to go back and help, and I was pretty sure that I saw people moving to help here back onto her inner tube (miraculously snatched from the water by someone). But I wanted to be sure. So, farther down stream than I would have liked, I managed to maneuver our two-person tube to the side, grabbed onto a branch (thankfully it wasn't thorny raspberry), held on with all my strength, and waited.

No Shalhevet. Finally, the others were coming. "Where's Shalhevet?", I shouted. "Downstream!" came the reply. "NO, NO", I insisted, "she went under the boat, where is she?" No time to compare notes, they were past!!

"They're probably right", I told myself, but I could have sworn it was her, and I can't take any chances. I flagged down one of the periodic guides who accompanied the army of people who rent rubber boats, and related my fears. He was very helpful, we walked upstream, coming to a point where we had to cross to continue, he told me put foot next to foot, moving sideways in relation to the current, but I couldn't. I was sooo tired by now, physically and emotionally, and I had to let him go on.

He didn't find her. He assured me that it is impossible to drown in the Hatzbani with a lifepreserver, especially for a swimmer (Shalhevet was one), and that allowed me to continue down the river, since there was nothing else I could possibly do.

We floated and paddled, people having a blast all around us, but I oblivious. Having learned that anticipation and clever paddeling helps avoid the stalling eddies, I hurried downstrem, wondering, "where's my Shalhevet, will she be waiting there?"

Yoni was standing on the bank about 5 minutes before the exit point. "Shalhevet was fine", he said. They had been right, it was Ariella, a 15-year-old, who had gone under, whom I had seen passed with the group. Shalhevet really had been up ahead, screaming her way down the riverin that wonderful combination of joy, excitement, and a small dollup of fear that teenagers seem to crave.

I dragged myself out, fell on her shoulder, and stifled a few sobs, she was embarrassed, everyone shared their adventures, Avishai showed the long, wicked scratch he had received from the same pallet I had somehow managed to avoid being impaled on. Everyone lost something, everyone gained something. Elisha summarized the experience with a Hebrew phrase which loses its succinct wittiness in translation: "haya tov, v'tov she'haya": It was good, and it's good that it was (and is no more).

The current is swift, there's no way back upstream while you're in the river. Standing on the bank is safer, but it's a different world in the water, time flows more slowly, light filters through the thick brush to be spattered off a million changing mirrors in the river, the buoyant delight of being surges with the dangers of rock, branch, separation and uncertainty.

I had been a fool to let myself be carried away by Yinon's youthful confidence and excitement. Because of my damnable judgement, I had endangered my son's life. What at the time seemed almost (but, I must admit, not quite) lifethreatening is now relegated to an anecdote to tell down the years, but I had jumped into the stream unprepared.

But once extricated physically from that situation, I could not extricate myself emotionally. The entire rest of the ride was one of angst, worry, doubt, and false conviction. I had my emotional brakes on the whole way.

Our lives are torrents of being, our children and our friends, our associates and, yes, our enemies are intertwined torrents who impinge upon one another. To be constantly aware of the full power and joy of that torrent is to be in a constant state of G-d-consciousness. That is impossible for flesh and blood. Inevitably, we enter and exit the water repeatedly. These are the moments of danger, of collision, of poor judgement, of fateful decisions.

Oh, Holy One, please bless us to utilized the tools You have given us for entry, exit, and navigation properly, and yet, to go with Your flow in love and trust, and to embrace each other unabashedly when we all come out in the end, together.