Heaven awaits

Mile 228.6

Regardless of whom or what we believe to be the Almighty, our connection to the universe is undeniable. Some people dispute their interpretation of an ethereal nexus to death. Others acknowledge the existence of one only when sickness or poverty strikes, or at somebody else’s demise. Many forget God until somebody hurts. Then, it’s all poems and prayers.

I do not belong to a church. Pedophiles and perverts tarnished this “child of a Mormon God’s” prescience. I also learned that God punitively darkened the skin of black people, the so-called “Sons of Lucifer,” because Cain slew his brother, Abel. The Church I knew, even in England, favored white salvation. Then, in 1978, via the prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, God forgave black people and racial profiling ended. I wondered why God didn’t turn their skin white again. The Mormon God’s psyche confused me so I left the church in 1979. I later discovered that yoga and meditation supported both my physical and spiritual well-being, eradicating the need for intermediaries.

Although I had left Johnny Cash’s boat dock, my thoughts lingered in the past. The site jogged a memory of an earlier time when my sister and her fiancé flew into Nashville from the other side of the world. They had moved several years ago to India, and I hadn’t seen my sister since.

Her lover, a much older man for whom she lived in voluntary servitude, revered Johnny Cash. The singer’s former home and grave-site drew the couple to Hendersonville. They peered at the rubble, posed by the guardhouse for holiday snaps, and later visited the graveyard. However, their visit troubled me. Strangely, their stay with us passed without any word from the rest of my family, two brothers, another sister and my mother who knew about my sister’s trip.

As I paddled along the base of the cliff, I mulled this thought over. I hadn’t heard from any of my family except when they buried my mother in 2014. They ordered me not to attend the funeral without a clear explanation. For years, I just dismissed those events but now, I realize how much they troubled me. I felt insignificant, unloved. The hurt lay beneath the obligatory demeanor expected of a fully grown man. I never cried about anything.

Alone in the kayak my thoughts overwhelmed me. I did my best to keep paddling. When I reached mile marker 228.6, I suddenly felt uneasy. The enormous square sign of luminescent blue-green, informs commercial traffic of its exact location as they travel along the main boating channel. The limestone cliff, now almost fifty feet high, radiated heat from the sun. The trees grew outward from the face of the rock, their limbs hanging out over the lake. Despite the good weather, I worried that one of the trees might tear from its roots and crash down on top of me. It would seriously ruin my day. To avoid them I traveled further away from the shore.

Once out of the “comfort zone,” my confidence evaporated. The never-ending cliff felt intimidating, as did the view of the lake off the starboard bow looking out toward Cage’s Bend. Old Hickory stretched for miles and the paddle-friendly, safe haven of a soft grassy shoreline disappeared. I hadn’t considered this stretch of the lake carefully enough. I worried about the Ingram barge boat appearing. The sound of its foghorn alone is alarming enough to unseat a paddler. I feared the effects of the wake as it passed. I doubted my ability. Capsizing would leave me clinging to the rock face, fearful of meeting a rabid beaver until somebody came to the rescue. That thought mustered the scraps of my faith. I wondered if there was a God.

My paddling became nervous and erratic. My heartbeat increased. My breathing quickened and my hands and feet tingled. I stopped for a moment, fearing a cardiac incident. My pulse throbbed up the side of my neck. I clenched my jaw and called out for God through my teeth. Then, I considered the suffering of others in the world and doubted that he, she or it ever listened out for someone like me.

The confinement of the kayak’s cockpit intensified the horror. Sealed into the boat by a waterproof spray skirt with a life jacket crushing my chest, and an ocean of lake water at the foot of the cliff terrified me to the point of paralysis. I trembled from my shoulders to my knees. Sensing an imminent capsize, I wanted to get it all over with.

“Go, Marty, go!” I thought. “Roll that yak over!” My thinking became ridiculous. All I could do was scream aloud like a person undergoing an exorcism. Although I hated the isolation, I hoped nobody heard me shouting. Nothing I thought made sense. Neither did having a panic attack. I hadn’t experienced one for years.

I reached for my deck bag and fumbled around inside. I needed something, any object would shift my focus and dissipate the feeling of panic. I wrestled out a clear plastic bottle in which I kept a mouthful of whiskey. Frantically, I twisted off the top and held the open bottle under my nose. I took a deep diver’s breath and savored the heavenly aroma. I lifted the bottle to my dry puckered lips and chugged the booze down in one gulp. My legs felt like jelly, my arms like noodles as I packed the empty bottle away. From the back of my tongue and down my throat, the bourbon left a warm trail of comfort, but landed in my gut like a stone. I felt more pathetic than poorly. Humbly, I prayed that no one on earth had witnessed me losing my mind in a kayak.