i was on a river trip once in high school, all meek ambition and a fantastical concept of my own capabilities. tanned and tired and happy and dry for the first time in 18 hours, i was contentedly sitting by the cooking fire on an unlikely island in the middle of the petawawa. a guy named jim played a crooked guitar and sang johnny cash like only a guy named jim can, on a crooked guitar in the middle of a canadian river.
my friend nick, the taller, good-looking one, full of talent and charisma and enthusiasm, had found something in the river and wanted to share it. he stood there, dripping from his life jacket onto the pine needles between his teva straps, grinning like an idiot and waiting for me to join him.
i hate being wet.
and there i was, dry and fed and halfway to bedtime, with a glistening guy demanding company. of course i said yes.
i donned my life jacket and followed him to the river to discover his treasure and there it was: no river booty or skeletal remains or even anything shiny, just a big, black rock. thing was, i couldn't see the rock. there was a strong, liquid current coursing over the top of it, hiding it from view. nick carefully picked his way through the shallow rapids, careful not to get tied up and break an ankle, and waited for me at the ever-changing bump of water. over the noise of the current, he told me to reach down and hang on. i didn't understand, so he demonstrated, squatting in the water, gripping the invisible ledge on the invisible rock, then he extended his body downstream behind him, and it all made sense.
he was weightless.
thousands of gallons of water from millions of years of water cycles and glaciers and evolution bore down on him, filling every fissure and pressing him downstream. he held on, face down in the current, as long as he could go without air. then he turned face up, let go of one hand, and smiled, squinting up at me.
i took my turn and gripped the rock and eased into the current and disappeared. i was gone. there was no day or night or wet or dry or air or time. there was only current. streaming and streaming against me, i knew what it must be like at the speed of light. everything stopped and everything existed all at once. there was only now. i opened my eyes and watched light invade me at warp speed, surrounded by a constant blue pressure, my two-handed anchor forgotten. i had become the present.
i don't think i ever thanked nick for that evening. we returned to camp only after we had sufficiently waterlogged ourselves and used up all the strength in our hands, holding on for dear life, and finding something so much bigger than ourselves, and knowing we belonged.