The sun stretched through the chill morning air, brushed the rushing waters, and landed on the banks of the Gauley River, West Virginia.
There, my cousins Jason and Josh, Uncle Tom, and Dad and I were suiting up for whitewater. Lifejackets clicked and paddles spun as instruction in correct out-of-boat technique mixed with guides’ instructively horrifying stories of incorrect technique. We had all signed our lives away to this adventure. In particular, we were about to entrust ourselves not to the usual twelve-person raft, but to a six-seater.
Our smaller raft and number of rafters seemed out of place on the surging river. We could be spun by whorls that would only jostle the bigger boats. We could be gripped and flipped by even short falls while the twelve person floats just slumped over and onward. We were more vulnerable to swamping on any of the class-IV or -V rapids. On the other hand, we were more nimble against the currents and swifter to turn around an eddy and dodge the rocks just because they were there. Our raft was less safe, but more fun. Oh, and one more thing. The privilege of paddling the small boat also carried responsibility: should one of the large rafts flop its contents into the river, we were the rescue raft because we could go quickly where others could not.
Just before launch, one man scoffed at our little boat and little us. “I ain’t gonna need you guys’ rescue. You skinny weak guys couldn’t haul me up anyway. In fact, I ain’t gonna need your rescue attempt neither. You’re the ones I’ll be pulling out of the drink!”
It has been rightly said that revenge is a dish best served cold. And cold is one of the things the Gauley does very well. A few miles down the river gorge, our guide spotted some twelve overboard paddlers twisting and grasping in the churning water. Left left left! We hauled up a bedraggled woman. Right right right! A grateful young man. There, near the rocks! My uncle hooked his hands into a man’s lifejacket and paused as recognition twinkled on the surface of the rush.
“He-e-ey… aren’t you the guy who was talking all that trash earlier today?”
“No, man, uh, that must have been somebody else.”
“Let’s throw ‘im back.”
We pulled him in and delivered him to his restored raft, all while smiling the serene satisfaction of the vindicated. Our six-person cork and we were precisely where and what we needed to be, even for the skeptic. In fact, our raft’s out-of-placeness was the very thing that enabled us to fulfill our purpose of rescue. I like to think that our guide was proud.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s Will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect Will.”
– Romans 12:1-2