When I am angry, I meander down the walking trails in my neighborhood and stop at Lake Wylie. When I am stumped over what sentence comes next in a story, I take a breather and go to stare at the water. When I am overwhelmed, nervous, even frightened, I go to the lake, and I am assured by its flowing that everything will be OK.
Sometimes I wonder how I ever made it when I was surrounded by concrete and a few trees. How did I make it without this lake?
I consider RiverSweep, the annual day when volunteers clean Lake Wylie, my chance to give back to the river for all it gives me. But this year I missed the occasion. I had to journey to New York to say goodbye to a friend who had also given me much.
Last year, my neighbor Dale and I donned our bad shoes and joined volunteers at T-Bones on the Lake. We walked gingerly over jagged rocks to pull from between them diapers, beer cans, shoes and paper. We went out on a boat to help another volunteer and found on the shore of the cove where we stopped, one car tire after another. I tugged at green artificial grass carpeting that had been slapped ashore and was now entrenched in muck and rocks. We pulled at old blankets, pillows and other debris. We laughed when our shoes -- with us in them -- stuck in the murky waters, making us sink. We hopped onto the boat with muddy legs, soaked socks and shoes and something to cackle over later.
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We looked at our bounty of debris and I wondered: Who are these people who have no regard for such a priceless gift?
Lake Wylie reminds me of "The Giving Tree," the famous book for children and adults by Shel Silverstein. It is a book about a tree that gives whatever the boy who visits needs. The tree gives throughout the years, as the boy grows and his needs change. The tree gives until both of them are old and tired. But it is the tree's great pleasure and joy to give. The giving to the boy who becomes a young man -- and then an elder man -- makes the tree feel needed and fulfilled.
But the man is not joyful because he does not see beyond the physical gifts of the tree, and therefore, he believes the usefulness of the tree dwindles as its apples and branches disappear. I am reminded of this book, because there are people who only see the lake for the use they get from it. So they boat and jet ski and fish and swim. And when they are done, the lake is the place where they dump their trash.
How can you treat something this way when it cools your sweaty brow on summer days and laps your legs with joy when you dangle them in it? On a day when the television is screaming warnings of economic catastrophe, the Catawba River gives me Lake Wylie to stare at and be reminded that calmness and lack of fear are choices.
Whenever I return to my community from a trip and I am driving from North Carolina on Highway 49 into South Carolina, I catch a glimpse of Lake Wylie, and I know I am home. The water glistens and waves to me. My blood pressure drops, my breathing lightens. My heart beats: I am home. I am home. I am home.
I don't like knowing the trash is there under its shimmering skin. The lake should not taste -- and does not deserve -- our tires, Styrofoam cups, beer bottles or diapers.
When I came home this time, melancholy with memories of a dearly departed friend, the lake assured me of the continuity of life. Like the giving tree, it called for me to let go of my mourning. This is something the lake gladly does. It catches with open arms our unspoken sorrows, fresh and aging fears, ever changing anxieties and deepest memories.
Patrice Gaines is a writer, motivational speaker and certified life coach. She also is co-founder of The Brown Angel Center, which aids formerly incarcerated women. Her Web site is patricegaines.com.