A Good Row

Wednesday night I had a good row.

This isn’t always the case.

A good row isn’t always possible because of things outside your control—the weather, first and foremost.  You can steel yourself against heat and cold, but if the river is choppy and there’s white caps on the wakes, you’re going to spend the whole time just trying to stay upright.

Same if there’s heavy wind.

Then there’s your crew.  If you’re rowing with someone who’s significantly better than you, you might have a hard time keeping up.  With someone less experienced, you’ll have to hold back.

Sometimes it’s the boat—the oars are rigged too high, or you’ve positioned your footplate too far away.  

Then there are things within your control that can disrupt a row—maybe you had a bad day at work and you’re not able to leave it on the shoreline.  Or you’re tired, or you’re hungry, or you’re just not in the mood.

Sometimes, all the external and internal conditions are perfect, and it’s still hard.  You feel like you’re dragging the boat every damn meter, and all your adjustments make everything worse.

And then sometimes—like Wednesday night—it’s effortless.

Wednesday started off precariously—the high school rowing practice went long, forcing us to start late.  There’s always chaos when one group is coming in as another is going out. 

I’d been irritated by the normal grind of my workday, and as it had been forecasted to rain, I worried that we’d end the row soaking wet and further annoyed.  In the fray of the boat change, I’d forgotten to adjust my equipment to my height.

I’d also forgotten my water bottle.

My doubles partner Beth is at the tail end of a long recovery from shoulder surgery, so she wanted to take it easy.

That worked for me.

Then we got out on the water and everything changed.

The late summer was heavy and humid, but I didn’t feel it.  We were in near perfect sync, and we were working hard, but it didn’t feel like it.  The needed equipment adjustments didn’t matter. 

I was relaxed.  My mind was floating.  The petty cares and worries evaporated.

And yet somehow we were having one of the best rows of my life.  We kept up with bigger boats and stronger rowers.

When I realized it, I got back into my head—I started to try.

“Relax,” Beth said.  “Don’t pull.”

Don’t ruin the flow, she meant, and she was right.  We were dancing with grace, and I was about to push and ruin it.

I backed off.

I’d been about to make the simple hard.

Instead we glided into a postcard-perfect sunset.

Afterwards, I felt spent and satisfied and fulfilled.

I slept like a rock that night.

A good row is like a good day at work, or a good piece of writing, or a good conversation—undemanding instead of grinding, smooth instead of awkward, unexpectedly deeper than our normal superficial days and interactions.

I wish I could tell you exactly how we did it, but I can only say that sometimes the muse finds you.

If only you could bottle it and sell it—or make an app to call it up at will on your phone.

But until someone does, we’ve just got to recognize these moments and appreciate them when they come.

4 thoughts on “A Good Row

  1. What makes a good day? A good conversation, a good watch, a fun bit of writing? We can fiddle with the formula, but we don’t really know. Sometimes, like putting the radio on and the perfect music playing, things just fall right, and all we have to do is be ready to catch them.

    • I think all the time of this quote by Annie Dillard. I sort of know what she means, and I sort of don’t. I think it’s the paradox of being human. We don’t always know what’s best for us, or even what we want.

      “There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

      • Good point, although I’m really all in on pursuing the life of sensation and greed and feel it would be a mistake to give up on this now. Sure, it does require more and more, but nothing good is every easy, and I’m hoping that my faith in greed AND sensation will pay off.

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