|Photo: My team, the Mighty Women, proudly displaying our silver medals for placing second in our division in the Portland Dragon Boat Races in Sept. 2012. Debbie is in the back row, second from left. I'm in the front row, third from the right.|
Rain pelted the river and flowed in rivulets into my eyes. It seemed as if someone was standing over me in the boat, flinging buckets of water into my face.
I blinked, trying to see clearly what lie ahead of our dragon boat. But it was no use. I couldn't see.
For the last three months, I'd been paddling a dragon boat with the Mighty Women through our wet Pacific Northwest winter. I'd experienced feeling drenched and chilled--yet elated--simultaneously. In spite of the discomfort, I loved paddling a dragon boat. Although I've spent most of every winter feeling cold and damp, I didn't mind being wet. And once we started paddling, I warmed up.
But this particular day on the dragon boat felt different. It had been raining with such force that only my team, the Mighty Women, and one other team, the Amazons, had braved the torrential rain and the swelling Willamette River.
My benchmate for this day's paddle was Debbie, who is always jovial and in good spirits. She's also one of our strongest paddlers who doesn't get ruffled easily. I find this astounding because Debbie is blind.
We didn't have a full boat of 20 paddlers, so pulling water was challenging. The swirling river and buckets of rain compounded our challenge.
During these weeks and months of paddling, I'd never considered dragon boating to be dangerous, never taken into account the possibility of disaster. But that morning, as we pulled our paddles through the churning water and were passing beneath one of Portland's many bridges, we were pulled forcefully toward the enormous bridge post.
As inexperienced as I was, I realized the potential danger and cried out, "Oh no! We're going to hit the post!"
As unruffled as ever, Debbie calmly reassured me, "Just close your eyes, Susan."
These words of wisdom, spoken wisely by a blind dragon boat paddler in the middle of the river, calmed me immediately. I took Debbie's direction and closed my eyes. When I could no longer see the potential disaster looming ahead of me, I relaxed and continued paddling in cadence with my team.
Our intrepid tiller averted disaster by steering us away from the post. For the first time in my experience, practice was cut short and we headed back to the marina. Later that morning, authorities closed the river, and practice was cancelled for several days until the water calmed.
Debbie's sage advice to "just close your eyes" applied to my life outside of the dragon boat too.
In the months previous to averting disaster on the river, I'd been laid off at work and went on unemployment for the first time in my life, lost my house, had no idea where I'd live or work. Or when my feet would be on solid ground again. I couldn't see where I was going. In a way, I felt blind.
Now I know that when potential disaster looms in my path, it's best to close my eyes, take a deep breath to banish my fear--and to keep paddling.