This is Part 4 of “Lead with Your Heart,” a week-long series about letting go and moving forward.


    Yesterday, I wrote about sacrifices and the act of “letting go.” Today, I will focus on emergence and transformation.

    There is perhaps no better place to experience transformation than on a long river journey, especially one that spans several seasons. During such a journey, one witnesses the slow, sometimes silent, maturation of the river. Along its banks, lush, leafy forests emerge from wooden skeletons. Birdlife returns, and their songs fill the spring air with a symphonic soundtrack missing from our urban lives. The searing heat of an August afternoon draws ample beads of sweat from our pores, while the stinging numbness of a January morning makes the act of leaving a cozy sleeping bag a reluctant challenge.

    But leave we do. Onward we travel on a twisting, winding ribbon of water. Our periphery is filled with pleasurable sights, and we are coaxed downstream by an unrestrained curiosity to discover what lies beyond the next bend. We grow, as does the river. We learn, love, and laugh, with the river as our silent witness; a witness that never judges, discriminates, or rejects us. Thanks to the river’s teachings, we become more accepting, more intimate, more empathic, more REAL. And as we emerge from the river and return to our urban lives, we generously share the gifts we’ve received, instilling in others the regenerative powers of rivers, and nature as a whole.

    At the heart of my upcoming book, “Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends,” is a transformative river journey undertaken by myself and good friend, Scott McFarlane, in the summer of 2001. In the excerpt below, we witness transformation firsthand and are deeply moved by the experience.


    Mississippi River, Brainerd, Minnesota

    “Laundry, emails, and grocery shopping ate up our morning. It had been our intention to spend a few leisurely hours lounging on the peaceful riverbank at Kiwanis Park, but upon arriving we found policemen engaged in a search and rescue operation. They were dragging the river for the body of a 10-year-old boy. Two friends had come to the river to beat the heat with a refreshing swim. One made it to the opposite bank. One did not. The scene was a sobering reminder of the unknown power of the river. Unseen obstacles that lurked in its depths created surging boils and strange currents. Were these boys aware of the hazards when they dove headfirst into the river’s muddy flow? We may never know.

    Firmly affixed to my daypack was an odd-looking insect that caught and held our attention. It was two inches long with a light brown scaly exterior. I nudged it slightly with my finger, but it refused to move. Then, to our amazement, the skin on the back of its head cracked open and a glistening creature began to emerge. It pushed up and out, elongating the crack in its shell as more of its body emerged. A long, semi-transparent abdomen slowly slid out from the shell in one motion. We watched transfixed as its wings, stored in four little compartments, began to protrude out along the length of its body. Only then did we recognize it as a dragonfly.

    Scott commented on its vulnerability as our little friend held fast to its shell, its fragile body hardening in the warm breeze. With a few testing flaps of its wings it was soon airborne, flying 20 feet and landing on a small bush.

    As our attention switched back to the rescue effort, Scott spied a white shoe washed up on the bank.

    “Hey, maybe it belongs to the kid that drowned,” said Scott. “I’m gonna take it down to the police.”

    Scott’s inquiries about the drowned boy were rudely dismissed by one of the officers, but the police kept the shoe as evidence. As Scott made his way back along the riverbank, I heard him shout, “Look who I found!”

    A familiar-looking, brownish green dragonfly was attached to Scott’s left shoulder.

    “Do you think it recognizes us?” I asked.

    “Of course!” laughed Scott. “We’re his papas!”

    Scott named the dragonfly Meta, short for Metamorphosis. 

    Like our little green friend, our impenetrable shells were slowly cracking and fragile new beings were emerging. These were vulnerable days indeed. We too were spreading our newly found wings and testing the gentle breezes that blew our way. Soon, we would take to the water in search of new adventures, new experiences, and new stories to hear and share and revel in. We had intentions to not only fly, but to soar.”

    Illustration by Jeremy Bruneel, one of 26 illustrations featured in Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends (available mid-June through Crow Books).