Sometimes, the Universe forces us to slow down. I like to call these types of experiences Universal Smack Downs: those seemingly random events that force a person to take serious pause about the direction his or her life is headed. For me, these Smack Downs have been physical in their manifestations and have sequestered me to the couch. Currently, I’ve been nursing a pretty intense ankle sprain for the last few weeks. I wish I could share an exciting story of how it happened, but really, all I did was slip on ice at the end of a friend’s driveway. I was pretty angry when it happened because I finally had time off from work and had all these lofty goals of spending a lot of time outdoors hiking and taking pictures. I was pretty unhappy with the Universe’s Smack Down that forced me to be sedentary. However, all this time spent on the couch shaking my fist at my perceived unfairness of the Universe with my foot in the air, icing the swelling down into a substantially smaller alien-sized appendage of my leg, has got me thinking about the last time I sprained my ankle, which is the last time the Universe provided me with a Smack Down, and lends itself to a much more exciting story.
This here is Canadice Lake. This lake saved my life, but not before its watery womb tossed me from my kayak during an epic adventure that took place in July 2012.
I was having a rough day: one of those days I was rapidly losing perspective on the thin line between self-preservation and self-destruction. I remember I was feeling pretty apathetic when I decided to throw my kayak on my car to head to Canadice Lake to catch the sunset. Equipped with only my headlamp and phone, I launched my kayak into choppy waters just as the sun was setting. I wish I could say the paddle inspired some feeling of reconnection to all that is right in the world, but I don’t remember this particular paddle being very memorable; that is, until I pulled off onto the shore to <ahem> relieve myself.
I paddled to where I was close enough to the shore to stand in the water, swung my leg over the side of my boat, and moved to get out. I’m still not clear about what happened, but the next thing I knew, my boat was upside down and I was sitting in the water. A wave could have come in forcing my boat over, or more likely, I was just clumsy. My first thought, of course, as a person of modern technology, was to save my phone which was in my pocket. When I pulled my phone from my water-filled pocket, it showed the dreaded grey screen: it was dead. Cursing whatever caused my kayak to flip, I dumped the water out, strapped my phone to front of my kayak to dry out, and paddled grumpily back to the launch.
Before I continue my story, you should know that Canadice Lake is pretty isolated; being one of the water sources for the city of Rochester, no one lives on the lake and the closest house to the launch is a few miles down the road. It truly feels like the middle of nowhere.
It was about 10 pm when I began loading my kayak on my car. I had left my car running with the heat cranked because I was soaked and freezing. Once my kayak was loaded, I went to get into my car to discover that I had locked myself out of my car. With it running. In the middle of nowhere. And my phone was dead.
I stood there for a full five minutes, marveling at my own stupidity. Then I started to blame God, who I wasn’t even sure existed. After literally screaming into the windy night, I began brainstorming ways I could break into my car. I picked up the largest rock I could find and began pounding on my car’s window. It wouldn’t break. After 10 minutes, I knew I would have to start walking.
Somehow, I had lost one of my flip flops when I got tossed in the water. So, with one flip flop and my headlamp on, I began walking down a very dark road in the middle of nowhere into the night. My head was filled with stories about wildlife that have been spotted in the area: bear, coyotes, and who-knows-what. I told myself I was one with the night, I’d be fine.
After 20 minutes of walking, I heard a rustling in the woods to my right. Now, this is the part of the story people have a hard time believing. I even have a hard time believing it, and I was there when it happened. It was one of those moments where your body reacts before your mind. My heart was racing and my hair was literally standing on end when I aimed my headlamp at the noise. Staring back at me were three pairs of eyes. Those eyes belonged to something that sort of resembled a dog, but had much bigger ears: coyotes! Three of them! And they were growling at me! I’m not sure what the protocol is for what a one-shoed woman armed with only a headlamp is to do when faced with growling coyotes at night in the middle of nowhere, but I switched my headlamp to strobe-light mode, attempted to embody the ferociousness of a tiger, and began flailing my arms and screaming at the coyotes. Perhaps it was the Universe nodding in my direction, but the coyotes took off running into the woods. I began running in the opposite direction.
I ran and ran until I hit a pothole and fell. Pain warmed up my leg from my ankle, but I kept running. I ran all the way to the closest house I could find. It was almost 11 pm when I began pounding on the door of a stranger’s home. An elderly man answered the door. I can only imagine what he thought as I explained what had happened and that I needed help. His response? “I can’t believe you came all this way this time of night. There are dangerous things out there! Just last week, three coyotes cornered my wife in the yard.” I told him I was pretty sure I had met those coyotes.
Thankfully — gratefully — this kind couple took care of me. The woman drove me to my car and waited with me until the police came to unlock my car door. That sweet, old couple restored my faith in the kindness of strangers.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had done some major damage to my ankle. Turned out I had a Grade III ankle sprain and would be spending a lot of time on the couch. A Smack Down from the Universe, straight to me.
I spent those weeks healing to take the time to leave a job that was draining me. I spent hours working on my photography, drawing, painting, and creating. I didn’t know it at the time, but really, instead of being smacked down, the Universe had provided me with the opportunity to re-evaluate the direction my life was headed. I was forced to look at the areas of my life that led me decide it would be a good idea to do a solo paddle at night in the middle of nowhere in an act of indifferent self-destruction. My first ankle sprain and the events that led to that injury were truly a wake-up call to change the passivity with which I was engaging life into actively creating the life I truly wanted to be living.
That was a little over two years ago. I am still working towards creating a life I love. With this more recent injury, the same theme has presented itself. I won’t lie – I spent a few days grumbling about how unfair it was that I was forced to change my plans and slow down. But it has provided me the opportunity to sit down and finally move towards my life-long dream of writing.
Throughout my life, I have learned that it is not our experiences that define us. It is how we respond to those experiences that will pave the way to the next experience and so on. I am almost certain that had I not been provided with a Universal Smack Down, I may have never taken the opportunity to examine the place I was in two and a half years ago. And if I had not sprained my ankle 2 weeks ago, this story would not have found its way onto the page. The quality of the lives we live is all about what we are doing to actively create and engage with the life we have. And sometimes, the Universe comes along and smacks us down so that we can reflect on those experiences and make sure we are headed in right direction.