Skye Kletz

2022-2023 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Skye Kletz, 17

Winner, 17-18 Age Group

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

“Skye, you’re supposed to slow down and enjoy the experience.”

I couldn’t understand what my brother meant – I had been going slow. He was fifty meters behind me on the river path, rocking against the green waves in his kayak. It was 2021 and my first time ever kayaking – something I wanted to try after the death of my mother in 2019 left me with a deep depression and no way to cope. That first time I settled into a kayak and pushed off into the historic Stones River, something very natural washed over me and I moved forward at a swift pace with ease. But somehow, my brother couldn’t keep up with me.

“You’re going too fast!”

No, I was going slow. I couldn’t understand how he could float at a near standstill and be okay with it. I wanted to see what was ahead on the river. I wanted to lead through unknown territory. I wanted to abandon the map and allow the curves of small islands and floating driftwood to guide me to the end point. Not as a means of hurrying to leave, but I couldn’t wait to see what was ahead. Or perhaps to grasp the tiniest glimpse of what it meant to be alone with nature. The water was different than anything I’d ever experienced before in the outdoors. No hiking trail could compare. I was completely separated from the world by the waves. No people or obligations to face. Floating upon the kayak, with the paddle shaft draped over my sunburnt thighs, I could lie back and be alone with myself and the water.

After that first time kayaking, I fell in love with the entire experience, and I went back as often as I could. I kayaked the Stones River again and again with different people, each time being told to slow down.

This past summer, I kayaked on a new river called Harpeth. This time, I went at my own pace, far ahead of the group. I kept paddling – left, right, left, right – until I suspended my paddle above the river, water droplets falling from the blade and making light chimes upon the reflective surface of Harpeth. And then I listened — and heard absolutely nothing — save for the breeze and water lapping against the shore. I was alone, at least a mile ahead of my group. And then it hit me.

I never wanted to kayak fast for the purpose of going fast. I wanted to go fast so that I could eventually float like this. Just for the few moments of stillness where I could be alone in the great vastness of nature and admit that I had been hurting for far too long. On the water, I had to face the scariest of all truths: myself. There existed a darkness and ugliness within me – a tangled web of grief and depression that never went away after my mom passed. Floating upon the kayak, I lied back and let everything that had been festering within me out. The vulnerable moments that passed between me and the waves in those minutes of solitary were filled with intense emotion as I reflected upon my past few years. The trust I put into the river was unlike a faith I’ve put in another. I was allowed to be, without the presence or judgement of another. The river took me as I was and I emerged anew. I shed a piece of myself in the water. A piece of depression and grief that needed to be left in the past. I think if you searched in that spot, you’d find the darkness. I advise you leave it there. I did.

I return often to the river to kayak, and though I still go quite fast, I’ve found peace and healing within myself since Harpeth. I’m no longer afraid of what’s inside of me, and instead, I’m able to focus on my future. I aspire to create a life that my mom would be proud of, and I owe my growth to a neon blue kayak and choppy river for accepting me in my ugliest form. I know life will be difficult without the guidance of my mom, but no matter what happens, I know I will always be able to come back to the river – who will take me as I am with open arms and keep every secret I shall spill into its murky depths.