Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Expect the Unexpected: Two Versions of the Same Adventure

One of the many things that has been hard for me to adjust to as an adult is that we have to expect the unexpected. When I was younger, I always assumed that when I grew up, all the doubts about how to handle life would somehow evaporate. But as I finally grew into adulthood, it became clear that no matter how much I planned, no matter how much I thought about didn't always do what I thought it would.

This has caused me endless hours of stress and anxiety. Especially after my daughter was born.

I like to know what’s coming. I like to feel like I have a plan. But there's simply no way to plan for everything. Believe me, I have tried. It ends up being very expensive, very frustrating, and not very effective.

This desire to want to be able to plan for every eventuality reminds me of a trip to Hawaii my family took when I was in middle school. We were vacationing in Kona on the Big Island. We were staying in a condo and had rented a jeep for the week to allow us to do some exploring. Needless to say, the trip took an unexpected turn.

Mara’s memory of the event: 

I was only 12 years old when we took this trip. I can’t say I remember very much. It was a typical family trip, we saw some of the major sites, did some shopping, ate at lots of restaurants. 

One day we were doing some sightseeing—including exploring a valley that was full of lush foliage and beautiful waterfalls. It felt very exciting. My dad was driving and I don't think he knew where he was going. There were no google maps or Siri to help us. I'm sure my mom had a map of the island with her, but there was no street map of where we were because there were no streets. There were no roads. At best they could be described as wide trails.

As we were driving, we crossed a couple of small streams, feeling brazen as we splashed our way across. Feeling adventurous, we encouraged my dad to keep driving. Eventually we came to a river. This was no little stream, it was a bonafide river. There was clearly a strong current as we saw the water swirl by us. We must have discussed whether or not we should try to cross it, although I don't remember it. But there must have been questions: Is the water too deep to get across? Is the car powerful enough? Should we turn around? Should we go for it? We went for it.

We got stuck. 

Like really stuck. The rocky bottom of the river trapped one of our wheels. I don't remember if the engine immediately died, but we were clearly not going to be able to maneuver the car forward or backward. 

Water quickly started flooding into the car. My parents hurried us out. My dad might have carried me because I recall the current being swift. My parents and my brother carefully waded through the water. One of my brother’s flip flops was swiftly swept away from us—we all said it was a sacrifice to the river gods. Perhaps it would bring us good luck. 

I'm not sure if the sacrifice of the flip flop was the cause, but shortly after we evacuated the car, as we stood on the banks of the river trying to figure out what to do, a jeep full of local boys stopped for us. I don't remember a lot about them other than they were clearly amused by the tourists who had abandoned their car in the middle of the river. But they were friendly. In very Hawaiian style, they seemed unconcerned about a bright red jeep in the middle of the river. And they immediately offered to help us. They took a tow line off their jeep and tied it to ours. They pulled our car out of the river.

Just like in the movies, we opened the doors and water poured out of the car.

We were all nervous to see if the car would start. Would we have to somehow try and get a tow company to find us in the middle of valley and tow us out? Was that even possible? 

The car started.

Being only 12, I’m sure there’s a lot missing from my version, but this is one of the only parts of that trip I remember. Once we were able to start the car we were able to laugh about it. I was young so I wasn’t worried about any financial ramifications of drowning a car so what I remember is that it was scary, and exciting, and funny and memorable. I remember how grateful we were to that group of local kids who were so friendly and helpful to strangers.

It was a bonding moment for our family that we often refer back to.

This memory has come in handy at times when trips I'm on have taken an unexpected turn. When something doesn't go the way I planned, I remember that my family once got stuck in a river, and that everything turned out fine. The trip wasn’t ruined. We were able to recover and move on. It reminds me that we are able to handle what we are faced with--even if we can’t prepare for it. 

Toni’s memory of the event:

Our memory of this event differs in several ways, but it was wonderful for me to relive the day through Mara’s description. Several of our recollections differ, but it’s funny that she mentioned her brother Jamal's flip flop floating down the river because that memory has stayed vivid in my mind all these years later.

So, here’s my version of events. We were driving through the lush Waipio Valley on the Big Island in our four-wheel drive jeep and had crossed several streams. When we got to one that was more river than stream, we talked for a few minutes about whether we could get across it. We were having so much fun on this adventure that we talked ourselves into thinking we could make it across. 

We couldn't.

When we got stuck in the middle of the river, the engine went dead, and the jeep started filling with water. We hustled out of it as fast as we could. Thankfully, we could still open the doors even though the water level inside was almost seat-high.

Here’s where my memory differs from Mara’s. It wasn’t the group of locals who pulled our jeep out of the river. It was a very old man. I can still see his face. The local kids she referred to (I’d say they were in their late teens) did indeed stop and help us though. I think there were four of them.

At first they teased us as if we were stupid tourists, but when we agreed with them, they changed their attitude toward us completely. They took us under their wing and began to take care of us. They stayed with us until the jeep started (as I recall, it took a while for the engine to turn over once the car was on dry land). Then they even accompanied us out of the valley (up a steep hill that only a four-wheel drive could negotiate) and helped us sop up the water in the car, using what towels we had. We’d fill each towel with water from inside the jeep, wring the towel out and then do it again. This took a while—maybe an hour. This wonderful group of kids stayed with us and became our protectors.

Now, about the old man. At some point, when we were on dry land but the jeep was stuck in the middle of the river (tilted a bit as I recall), I started walking back up the road to look for help. One family member came with me, but I don’t remember who it was. We came to a rice paddie and there was a man who I’d guess was in his 80s, sitting in a battered old jeep—it looked as old as he did. I asked him if he knew anyone who could help us and he said that he could. He drove us to the river and got a cable out of his jeep. We attached it to both jeeps and then he slowly drove his until it finally pulled ours out of the water.

We were so grateful and he looked so poor that Mara’s dad reached in his pocket and tried to give the man a 20 dollar bill. “No, no, no” he said, refusing to take it. We thanked him over and over...and then he drove off as if it had been no big deal. At some point during all of this, the local kids came upon us in their own jeep and, as I recounted, stayed with us until all was well.

This is one of my most treasured memories from the years of raising Mara and Jamal. My husband and I may have been negligent as parents to have tried to cross that river but, for some reason, I've never felt bad about it. Maybe it’s because, as Mara said, it was such a bonding experience for our family.

Writing about it here fills my heart with love for my husband and my two children.

Waipio Valley


  1. It's always very interesting to hear the different points of view when there is a group occurrence. We all see the world from the point where we exist; it's like living in a forest -- you can only see somethings from where you stand. Others, at different places see some of what you do, but they also see things that you cannot.
    This reminds me of a line from Doug Adam's (author) post-humous book, "Salmon of Doubt": "...he was always amazed by how different the world looked from a point three feet to the left." People who know me also know that when they are complaining about a situation, I tell them to step three feet to the left.
    The biggest problem for us humans is that we can only see just so much of the world around us (physically or metaphorically). We recognize what we know and often, we stop looking beyond. But behind that tree (problem, event, whatever), there is something more, something different that will change your perception/s if you will only step those three feet to the left and look at your point from a different perspective.
    Thank you for sharing two view points of a single event. I'll bet your husband and son have two more stories to tell, like yours, but...different!
    Blessings and peace.

    1. Hi Kitty. Toni here. I love the idea of taking three feet to the left. I'm going to keep that it mind...that my understanding of a situation (or another person) is limited by my current stance (literally or metaphorically) and I'd be wise to take a different view. Thanks for this comment.