Portaging: What do you put in your canoe?

Portaging is the act of carrying a water vessel over land either between two bodies of water or around an obstacle such as rapids in a river.

I had never heard this word until my book club read “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. In the story, one of the main characters, Molly, is learning about the Wabanaki Indians.  This tribe often had to migrate across water in canoes, so they had to determine what was important to keep in the canoe and what they needed to leave behind. Molly’s teacher assigns a project on “portaging” for which they need to interview an older relative or neighbor about their “literal and metaphorical” journeys and what they chose to carry and “leave behind.”

Prior to our meeting date the hostess asked if anyone would be willing to share a moment in our life where we had to decide what to bring, what to leave behind, and what insight we gained.

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 that 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, and I wound up discovering there are three common things I always carry in my canoe.

  1. Support  In order for me to progress I needed to put my ego aside and ask for help. I thankfully received 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 became a lighter load when I asked for help.
  2. I had to decide if these transitions were going to make or break me  When I was a 19½ year old newlywed my husband and I moved 800 miles away to southeast Texas.  Leaving behind the only home I had ever known, as well as all my friends and close family ties, I was headed for a place I knew nothing about. I could have given into my feelings of loneliness and the almost eleven years we spent in Texas (with intermittent transfers to Baton Rouge, LA and Niantic, CT during this same period of time) could have been absolutely miserable. I am shy by nature so forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone was a huge and difficult step for me. I chose to make the best of it by attaining an undergraduate degree in education at the nearby university and got involved with a women’s club where I met and made some really great friends. We wound up moving back to my home state, and 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.
  3. Faith  I relied on my faith and the power of prayer to guide and help me through.  I will share that there was a time during one of these transitions when I was extremely frustrated, worried, and felt so helpless that I had to step away from my prayer life because I felt my prayers were not being heard. Understand, I never lost my faith; I just had to step away for a while until I could make sense of it all. I never  have made sense of it 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 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 always the number one thing I put in my canoe.

As the new chapters of my life unfold 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?

Also shared on Esme Salon