Prisoner of Río Pacuare

October 9, 2010
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“Respect the water and it will respect you,” one of the guides had read aloud earlier from the torn and wrinkled contract. Is it even possible to respect something so cavernous and magnificent as a body of water without completely surrendering to it? It is amazing to think that someone can become a prisoner of something as pure as water. Water does not have boundaries or limits. It does not abide by any rules and it cannot control its reactions. A split second change in the direction of the wind or a sudden drop or rise in temperature can cause a whole body of crystal blue water to morph into a violent maelstrom of uncontrollable riptides and waves.
I had never been white-water rafting before and although I was terrified, I convinced myself that it was absurd to even think of the possibility of death. I was never going to be like one of those people who died because they could not control what was going on around them.
But as I stared into Río Pacuare’s amorphous body and felt thousands of pounds of water smacking the sides of my boat, it finally dawned on me that it is impossible to control everything all the time. Río Pacuare had already decided my fate for me: I was not going to be able to fight against her or push her out of the way as if she was just some meaningless, powerless force.
Río Pacuare began to angrily spew out broken fragments of chipped rocks. My teeth collided into each other, making clicking sounds like the tick-tock of a cuckoo clock and I bit down on my tongue to stop myself from panicking. I felt my heart melting into a steaming, oily puddle of coppery tasting liquid that clawed its way into my esophagus. And then, there was nothing.
Up until this very moment, I had coped with fear and anxiety by trying to control everyone and everything around me. As my boat capsized, I finally realized that if I stayed locked into this mindset I was not going to be able to get out of this situation alive.
A blanket of perpetual darkness covered me from head to toe. I called out for help, but no one heard me. I felt something heavy pressing against my chest and my head felt like it was going to explode. I gasped for air but I felt my lungs closing up with water. White stars twinkled like diamonds in the distance and a bright flashing light cast a soft glow over everything.
I could not control anything, but I knew that a special kind of peace existed in this darkness. As I was helped aboard a different raft, drenched, shaking, and gasping for breath, I had an epiphany.
Life is like white-water rafting. One moment you are in a complete state of bliss, the next you are in the middle of raging rapids, fighting for survival. You cannot control the rapids, but you can control your responses and reactions to almost every situation. Once you hit the rapids, you have two choices. You can panic because you feel as if you have lost all control, which can be very catastrophic, or you can face the rapids head-on and emerge a much stronger person. It takes a lot of power and persistence to stay calm when you are thrust headfirst into the rapids, but it could be the difference between life and death.
I made it through the rapids and I will never forget the lessons Río Pacuare taught me. I have learned to put fewer limitations on myself, to expand my boundaries, and to live each day as if it were my last. Maybe one day, I will visit Río Pacuare and tackle the rapids again, but for now I am just enjoying the view from the riverbank.

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