Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)
Sitting beside the river is like watching a parade. We laugh at the inexperienced canoeists who fight each other and crisscross the river unable to steer. We wait for them to tip over and watch them swim after the pounds of gear that they felt necessary to drag along on their excursion. We admire the handcrafted kayaks and debate the merits of one built for two or the single boats. The people who know how to paddle in tandem are amazing to watch. They can really fly. We cringe when the massive groups of tubers go by. We can hear them screeching and calling for an hour before they get past us. We frown at the smokers who blow their noxious fumes our direction and wait for them to toss their cigarette butts into the river before glaring at them for being irresponsible and hoping the river patrol catches them. Just as bad are the big boats whose owners refuse to obey the no wake signs. Not only do they go so fast that they create a lot of waves that push our tubes and boats up on shore, but the exhaust generated by their speed is smelly as well. As tubers and most boaters drift past, they are usually at a slow enough pace that my husband talks to them. It often starts when a stranger assumes we sit there all day long 365 days a year. “Such a life you lead,” they call. “Oh, no. This is a lot of work,” husband replies. “I am the judge of a tattoo contest. By days end, I have to figure out which is the most beautiful and the ugliest.” Everyone laughs at his joke. The water carries sound so we eavesdrop on conversations that people would be embarrassed to know strangers hear. They talk of disease, rotten children and horrid jobs. One evening, we heard a strange discussion coming from a pontoon boat farther upstream. It looked like they were having a party, so at first, we didn’t quite get what they were talking about. “Should we go oldest to youngest? What about ladies first? I’ll take care of Uncle Mike, you get Mom and Dad.” Huh? I finally decided that they must be planning some kind of family event. Perhaps they were putting together photo albums and preparing speeches. Then, they drifted past, and I saw that they were carrying urns. They dumped the ashes of their loved ones into the river. Ick. Double ick, when a layer of dust interspersed with flower blossoms slid slowly by the dock All that was left of Uncle Mike, and Mom and Dad. Sometimes, not just on vacation, but all year long as well, we forget how fragile life can be. As much as I might not want to think about it, I need to cherish every breath I am given. Even the ones that suck in exhaust and cigarette smoke. Life is not always fun, but it is always precious.