The Luckiest Man

With the sun at my back, and my feet firmly planted on the black granite cliffs rising up from the churning waters of the Temperance River, I look into the eyes of my 17 year old daughter as she shimmies closer to the edge of the cliff. My stomach turns over and my head began to swim with fear. I look over to the water some 40 feet below where we stand as she says to me…”dad, once I jump you have to jump too”.

I would not say that I am fearful, in fact years ago when I was in the military I jumped out of a helicopter over the Pacific Ocean, repelled down the face of really high vertical walls and even entered battle fields in under fire in South West Asia. I even recently hiked the Na Pali Coast of Kauai; one of Back Packer Magazine’s Top Most Dangerous Hikes in America, but here I am at 48, standing over a crevice; and when I say crevice I am talking about a spot along the Temperance River where the rock outcroppings on either side, are only separated by about twelve feet before plunging into a gorge of dark, loudly rushing water.

My brow begins to sweat a little, maybe it’s the heat of the Northern Minnesota late July sun, or maybe like most sane people after having reached their forties, I have realized that healing is a lot slower now, pain comes a lot easier and fear always involves never seeing my children again if I were to do something stupid. Anyway, there I stand, my kids still think I’m cool and I am not about to threaten that by bailing on my 17 year old daughter, whose not embarrassed to be seen with in my swimming trunks.

As I watch her glance back at me and smile a wry cockeyed smile, she leaps into the air, her pony tail seemingly mocking me in a symbolic wave of goodbye, and she falls silently, and for some peculiar reason this all seems happens in slow motion, what’s with that anyway! Then she’s gone, vanishes beyond the rocky edge, I stumble to see below and where there is a quickly disappearing splash she is not. Others around us gasp at the site of this young girl sinking below the surface and just then she emerges triumphantly from the depths to smile, wave and threaten me if I don’t follow her.

So of course I smile and wave at her while she is carried away by the tumultuous river towards the much calmer and colder Lake Superior. Then I look around me, folks I don’t know watch as I consider my quite probable demise. I hesitate for a long while but then out of some paternal desperaty I slide my bare foot to the edge and peer below…duh, In the same fashion as in any slasher movie, when the young victim enters a dark room and they never turn the lights on, I study the distance between me and my fate…sheesh, what a winner.

I take a deep, hard swallow and launch myself from the one solid safe place I stood, I could have walked away and ate my ham sandwich on the beach digging for Agates, but instead I am falling…and not with grace I might add, through the hot summer air and downward to the mysterious depths of this raging river. All the while praying to Gitchigumi, the Chi Manidoo, the Anishinabe Ojibwe spirit of Lake Superior for protection. And after what seemed like forever at the time I am submerged in the cool, inviting, cleansing waters of the Temperance, I surface elatedly, get carried down over the smooth rocks leading into a small lake which empties into Lake Superior and am welcomed by my children. All of them smiling, with looks on their faces that say…”nice job dad, wasn’t that completely awesome?” To which I must respond…”absolutely!”

There are times in our lives when we know that our children are growing up, it is sad, their innocence wanes just a little, their eyes become more mature and their idea of you as their parent seems to become less adorned with thoughts of wonder and amazement. But at times like these, when caution is thrown aside and one little action, just a single small thing like a wide open smile wrapped in unabated excitement can make the whole world seem like the most beautiful place and nothing matters but you and them right there, right then.

I had the most wonderful time with my children on this trip, we swam and went on adventures and muddled through yards of stones on many beaches looking for sea glass and Agates. We even jumped from cliffs into the Temperance. These are the things that make me happy; these are the times when I feel like the luckiest guy on earth.

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