During the years in which I was privileged to be the School Social Worker at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, I would chaperone the eighth grade graduation trip.
The trip generally began with a tubing excursion down the Delaware River, along the Jersey-PA border.
A number of years ago on a chilly and cloudy June day, our driver cautioned us that upon arriving in the water we should remain in our tubes. He explained that because of the influx of rain and snow that had fallen during the winter and spring, the water level was five inches higher than normal, causing the cold current to flow at a more frenzied pace. He also warned us that as soon as we descended into the river, we should paddle to the middle. Near the sides there were branches and other debris that could impede the flow of the tube and it would be very difficult to wriggle free.
As soon as we got off the bus it immediately returned to base, leaving me alone with the graduates. The boys hit the water and merrily flowed downstream. I waited with the stragglers and was last to go in. I was surprised at how quickly I was moving. Just as I was getting comfortable I heard one of the boys frantically call me. His tube had gotten stuck on a branch and he was not moving. I quickly grabbed hold of a low-lying branch from a nearby tree to ensure that I would not drift farther away from him. However, there was no way I could counter the heavy current and paddle any closer to him. I began calling out some ways he could free himself. But he kept yelling: “I can’t do it! I’m stuck!” At that moment I felt helpless. I screamed back to him, “You have no choice! There is no one who can come to help you! You must figure it out!”
It took at least ten minutes before he finally managed to free himself. Suddenly I looked up and he was freely drifting past me downstream, rapidly and gleefully.
Often in life we become stuck – stuck in the morass of our habits and the rote of our comfort level. We want to change and improve but we feel we just can’t. The debris of complacency has us clutched in its relentless grasp and we feel that we cannot elude it. We blame circumstances, parents, friends, finances, pathologies, and everything else surrounding our lives. And so we remain, dejected by what we feel are circumstances beyond our control.
It is when we realize that only we can help ourselves that we have a hope of changing. A person must have the requisite determination to invest the needed effort. It indeed requires a tremendous amount of mental willpower, but as soon as a person pulls free, he will be amazed by how quickly the spiritual current will carry him. Suddenly he’ll find himself flowing joyously down the rivers of spiritual growth and fulfillment.
To conclude the story, when we reached the end point, our hero could not paddle himself to the side and continued to flow passed the base. He had to be towed in by a motorboat.
There’s a lesson to be gleaned from that as well, but that I leave to you!