I had never heard this word until my book club read “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. In one of the chapters, one of the main characters, Molly, is learning about the Wabanaki Indians. This tribe often had to migrate across water in canoes. Travelling across the water was doable, but once they reached the shore, they had to carry the canoes, so the additional items they brought with them had to be manageable. They simply could not take everything with them when they moved so they had to determine what was important to bring in the canoe and what they needed to leave behind.
We have all had to (metaphorically) portage – it is just the way life goes – and we have to decide what is important to keep and what is important to let go. Portaging can occur when we leave or enter into relationships with others. Portaging can occur when we make a move to a new home or new job. Portaging can occur during a renewed spiritual journey or the struggle with maintaining faith. Portaging is whatever we decide to take with us and what we decide to leave behind when we encounter transition times of our lives and can have a profound effect on the quality of our life.
I have had several significant times in my life, where portaging has been necessary ~ although I did not realize this is what I was doing. Through much trial and error, I began to realize I had to weed out the emotions and/or circumstance that could weigh me down making it difficult to move forward or…. from completely sinking. Determining what to put in the “canoe” differed with each journey/transition. I wound up discovering, however, there are three common things I always carry in my canoe:
- Support: In order for me to progress I need to put my ego aside and ask for help. I thankfully receive a lot of love and support from my family and my circle of friends during these times. The various moves from one state to another, the new babies that grew into the challenging teenager years, the ups and downs of marriage, divorce, and death of loved ones become a lighter load when I ask for help.
- I had to decide if these transitions were going to make or break me: When I was newlywed my husband and I moved 800 miles away to southeast Texas. During two full days of driving two separate cars – one of them towing a trailer with everything we owned – we headed towards a destination I knew nothing about. While driving alone, all I could think about was leaving my close family ties and friendships – it was very daunting to say the least. Once we settled, I could have very easily given into my feelings of loneliness. I chose to make the best of it and forced myself to step out of my comfort zone. Eventually I wound up attaining a Bachelor of Science in education at the nearby university and got involved with a women’s club where I met and made some terrific life-long friends. We eventually wound up moving back to our home state after spending ten years in Texas – with intermittent short-term transfers to Baton Rouge, LA and Niantic, CT. I can say with confidence I returned a better person than when I left. I did some much-needed growing up, made life-long friends, and created some incredible memories.
- Faith: I relied on my faith and the power of prayer to guide and help me through these transitions. I will share that there was a time during one of these transitions when I was extremely frustrated, worried, and felt so helpless. It seemed as if God was too busy to hear my prayer, so I became frustrated and discouraged and decided to step away from my prayer life. Please understand, I never lost my faith; I just had to step away for a while until I could make sense of it all. The thing is, I never have made sense of that situation and I never fully understood the how and why of that transition; but I eventually came to realize ~ through the grace of God ~ how much that particular transition provided a positive influence in my tolerance of others, empathy for those struggling, and a surprisingly deeper faith. In times of joy and sorrow I still rely heavily on my faith and although it is number three in this post, it is and will always be the number one thing I put in my canoe.
As the new chapters of my life unfold, I am certain there will be more canoes to carry. I am grateful that I have, so far, arrived at each destination with more courage, resilience, and compassion than I ever thought I could.
As I look toward the unknowns of the future, asking for help, deciding on whether I will allow this transition to make or break me, and relying on my faith will always go into my canoe.
What do you include in your canoe?
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