Recently I was nominated for a caregivers retreat with No Barriers. The No Barriers tagline is “What’s within you is stronger than what’s in your way”. The retreat itself was amazing, but even more impactful was the story of it’s co founder Erik Weihenmayer. As a toddler his family learned Erik had a diagnosis that ensured he would become blind as a teenager. Erik learned to wrestle, a sport he could do with low vision. It was on the wrestling mat that Erik learned his mother had been killed in a car accident. Within a year he lost what was left of his sight and was plunged into darkness.
Erik learned to climb. You can feel and climb a rock face without seeing it. Rock climbing lead to mountain climbing and on May 25, 2001 he became the first blind man to summit Everest. In 2014 Erik and fellow blind kayaker, Lonnie Bedwell, paddled the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and that is where my life first intersected with Erik’s although at a distance.
My husband is a paddler. He can paddle a kayak but his love is rafting. The rafting community is funny to an outsider. There is a unique camaraderie to it, and all paddlers are pretty sure they are doing God’s work. There was a time when I would have argued that point, but I no longer disagree. There is no cathedral like a canyon. There is no finer incense than pine, sunblock and wet neoprene. Water has always been symbolic for new life and redemption. Rivers are the arteries of God.
A fellow paddler and friend of my husband’s was one of Lonnie’s guides down the Grand Canyon. His name is Chris Drew. He is a bit of a pure soul and really hard not to like. I don’t know him well, but I’ve always walked away feeling better for knowing him at all. It was my husband, Garry, that put together the No Barriers/ Chris Drew connection when I was on the trip. He told me Chris has been on the support team for the Grand Canyon trip Erik and Lonnie did. There was a documentary about the trip and he hoped Chris would be in it. We planned to watch it when I came home. The movie is called “The Weight of Water”.
I returned home and life was busy. It was several weeks before we sat down to watch The Weight of Water. We had hoped for a glimpse or two of our friend Chris, but he was actually featured somewhat prominently. When Erik would paddle down the river he wore a headset in his helmet and another kayaker would guide him verbally through rapids. The guide would tell Erik what strokes to take and when. Lonnie’s system was a little more archaic. Chris would paddle ahead of him all the while calling “Lonnie, Lonnie, Lonnie” and Lonnie would deftly paddle towards the voice calling his name.
From the very first time my husband took me out on a river he has been determined to teach me to read water. I have learned to read water although I am hopeless on an oar-frame. I do quite well on a paddle board or ducky. Now Garry is teaching our son to read water. He will point down river and say, “do you see that horizon line”. He will show him what to avoid and the best line to take. How to tell where the rocks are and where you may get into trouble. I can’t imagine going down a river blind. I would have to have great faith in the one who set my horizon line.
Knowing what little I know about water and watching the dance of Chris leading Lonnie down the Grand left me asking myself “Who set’s my horizon line when I can’t see? Who’s voice do I follow? Who is calling my name?”.
When Garry was sick he told almost no one at his crossfit gym. Even most of the coaches had no idea how sick he was. He would falter and they would tell him to keep going. He wanted them to set his horizon line according to what a healthy man could do. They did, and he followed. I am so grateful for the people who unwittingly set his horizon line for him. I am grateful for the voices that called his name and he was able to follow. He’s always been really smart about that sort of thing. He has always had a lot of discernment. I have not.
I’m a bit of a sucker. My friend Laury and I joke about how we love everyone and two drinks in we also believe everything. I can think of many times that I have followed the wrong voice into potential ruin. I have trusted the wrong person to set my horizon line in a place that either wouldn’t challenge me or would potentially drown me. Then there is the voice that leads you to the rapid and falls silent halfway through. Worse still is the voice that calls you to them and then plunges you under water to save themselves.
Who is setting my horizon line? Along with the bad I have amazing people set my line. They’ve given me grace and permission I wouldn’t give myself. They’ve seen my capabilities beyond what I believed and showed me how to accomplish things I didn’t know I could do. I’ve had people paddle upstream and pull me out of the water when I couldn’t reach my horizon line. Who do I trust to set my horizon line?
But maybe the more important question is who’s horizon line am I setting? What kind of job am I doing for them? It’s a big responsibility and sometimes we are doing it without even knowing. You can change someone’s life with a timely word or a hug.
I hope when I am setting a horizon line for someone else, I hope I am very much like Chris Drew. I hope when someone needs me they know they can make it through the dark by following a strong rhythmic consistent voice calling their name.