Recently divorced and traveling in Canada, I noticed canoes every time I turned around – the display book at a used book store in Victoria, B.C., the lead story in the Sunday Globe and Mail about canoe as symbolic of Canada, an article in my alumni magazine about a professor building a canoe as a semester project.
I loved the metaphor of it – the independence and seamless glide of the journey, the quietude of canoeing, the memories it brought me of my childhood summers.
I also hated canoeing. It was boring. On three-day trips as a teen down Wisconsin rivers, the most fun part was docking at a campsite and cooking things in aluminum foil packets over an open fire and sneaking from our campground to see if there were any boys in sleeping bags nearby.
So why on earth the symbolism of this mode of transport fascinated me so, I had no clue.
Until this week.
I just finished reading Ben Schrank’s Love is a Canoe. A great novel about a marriage self-help book likening the experience of a canoe to what it takes to make a great marriage is clever, quick-reading and surprising.
Everyone who’s ever been married knows marriage is not a cakewalk. Even I, in my second go-round, can attest that there are easy times and not-so-easy times – and especially when there are (four) children underfoot.
So the simplicity of presenting a canoe as the perfect metaphor for what it takes to make marriage last is brilliant. And appetizing. And…hopeful.
There are surprises at the end that beguile, and I won’t ruin it for you, but I came away amazed at the metaphor yet again. What is it about canoes cropping up in my life and me being so magnetically drawn to the imagery, the message?
This summer, Dan and I took our kids canoeing. We had no other water vehicles of choice: kayaking (metaphor in the book for loners…) too many kids to fit altogether and the kids weren’t old enough to go it alone, paddleboats fit five, not six – and so we each took two kids in a long metal canoe on a calm summer lake and made our way out and around through the murky water until everyone was satisfied and wanted to swim.
I found no metaphors in the actual experience other than the simplicity of a warm morning gliding along the water, and the revelation that in my own strength alone, I could steer my children wherever I wanted to take them.
Perhaps the illusion of an easy relationships is just that, illusion. Is anything really ever easy?
Except when it actually is.
I’ve waxed poetic a lot about how, when you’re on your right path, it just flows and you don’t have to struggle quite so much. I do believe that.
I also believe there’s a little education and fun in the struggle. If everything were easy, would it be worthwhile?
Last night, making our way home from San Diego with a lengthy stopover in the Minneapolis airport, Eliana asked me why I became Orthodox in the first place so many years ago.
I explained that I wanted to fit in, to belong to something, and also, I though people would live by higher ideals in that community than the superficiality I’d seen in so many places I’d lived. I also told her I wanted to get married, and in your 20s it’s just not cool to say that out loud unless you are in a community where marriage is the point of it all.
She nodded her head, but I’m not sure she really comprehended it.
The ultimate lesson, which I shared, was that people are people wherever you go. Some are inspired and inspiring; many are not.
So if we can see a canoe as something more than what it is, I’m all for it. And if it’s just a vehicle to get from one place to another in calm, swift strokes, I can live with that too.
However, there’s nothing better than exquisite storytelling that makes you ponder the meaning of your life and perhaps come away with a little more wisdom than when you first cracked the cover. That’s the journey, isn’t it? Every single day.