One of my favorite vocal artists was South Africa's Miriam Makeba, and one of her songs that has stuck in my memory, is "I Can't Cross Over," about a woman unable to cross the river to go into town.
My own experience of not being able to “cross over” happened on the morning of August 25, 2019, and it was not a pleasant occurrence even though I laughed at my predicament.
My intention was to set off down the beach to personally check on my friends, given the fact that the husband had not responded to my calls and texts. Internet access is erratic where they live.
The first indication that trouble lies in wait is not being able to open the side door to the passageway that leads to the beach, obligating me to use the front gate to exit.
Off I go with my walking stick in hand (the wooden extension used to lengthen the paint pole).
The second indication is the presence of a couple of dogs down the beach; one of whom is standing in the tide where the sea comes ashore to meet the river water, where I know I have to walk to cross to the other bank to continue to my destination. As I get closer, the dog approaches me; I shake my stick at him after he passes, then turns to follow me. (little do I know he’s trying to warn me away from the spot on the beach where I am headed, believing this is the shallowest place where I can cross).
On the opposite bank are a couple of people, apparently the parents of two young girls who are frolicking in the river, which only comes up to their waist and lower chest. Farther down the beach, on the same side, are two young men heading in my direction, towards the resort, about a mile away from my house.
I step into where it seems the river water and the sea water meet, but don’t mix; where in the past, I’d cross without even thinking about it. Not today. I sink into the river sand. Past my knees, trying to gain a foothold, using my stick to find solid ground. I have the presence of mind, not to continue moving forward, but turn to face the direction from which I have come, literally walking on my knees. Meanwhile, the people on the opposite bank are watching me, and this may be why I don’t panic. When he comes abreast of where I am trying to escape from the mud, one of the young men rolls up his pant legs and comes into the water to extend his hand to pull me out and guide me to a safe spot to cross. (for some reason, I am laughing the whole time).
On to my destination. Another small river to cross, but I’ve learned my lesson, and using my stick to check the solidity of the bank, I cross the rivulet without a problem.
My friend responds to my shouts and comes down to give me the info about his wife’s condition; she suffers from dementia. The news is painful to hear; that she is deteriorating and there’s nothing more that he can do to halt the disease’s inexorable advance. He bathes her, cooks for her, dresses her, entertains her, all the while knowing that she thinks he’s her brother.
I ask him to hug her for me, and I leave to head back to my house.
I head down the beach to where I think the young man helped me to cross, but I’m not sure. I stay on this side of the river and walk towards a young boy who’s playing with his dog in the river. I ask him where it’s safe to cross, and he points to where the sea and the river meet. I head in that direction, but am afraid to try because the beach is deserted and if I sink again, there’s no one to help me out.
There are houses between the road that runs parallel to the beach and the river bank, and I notice that there’s no fence around one of the houses that appears deserted. I think that I can walk through the back yard and should be able to exit through the front and walk along the road to get back home.
Wading through mid-calf weeds, I make it to the front of the property, only to find a concrete wall and a padlocked chain link gate. I look at the slight opening between the two halves of the gate, but it’s too narrow to squeeze through. At the end of the left side of the wall, there is a gap at the property line. I head there, thinking that I can hold on to the wall and work my way around to the front. No such luck. There’s not enough ground above the creek that runs below. So, back to the chain link gate. Can I get a toehold and climb over? The reality of time’s toll on my physical agility clears my mind, and I regretfully head back to the beach.
Placing my phone inside my bra, I wade into the water where river and sea hold daily communion. Determined to protect my phone, I neglect to take off my flip-flops; they are the price I have to pay to cross to solid ground. First one, then the other, is captured by the sucking sand, then released to float away.
The final component in today’s ‘lesson’ was to walk the broken tile and rock-strewn passageway, barefoot, to get into my yard.
The takeaway from today’s experience:
1. Don’t assume that what worked in the past, will work in the present. Check to be sure your steps will be supported.
2. Pay attention to how you got to a destination, so that you can safely retrace your steps, if you need to return.