My River Runaways Part 3 of 3

There I was standing at the end of the road wondering if an officer would ever show. It couldn’t have been much more than a minute later. I look down the gravel road and low and behold, there came Jimmy and Tommy walking right toward me.

They were talking to each other and hadn’t noticed me yet. They looked disheveled. We wore our shirts tucked in but theirs were untucked and, of course, they had also taken the time to make sure their pants were sagging. Big camp no-no there. Thankfully, they also looked a little out of breath.

Not sure how they would respond when they finally looked up, I figured moving towards them could start the chase. I went with crossing my arms and cocking my head a little, as if to suggest, what took you so long? I’ve been waiting all day. It worked. Besides the look of surprise, they both shook their heads in defeat when they finally noticed me. To my surprised, they walked right up to me.

I stood silently until they got real close and asked very quietly,

“Where were you two thinking?”

(It was one of those “parent-type” questions. The kind you don’t expect a response to other than, “I don’t know.” so you can hit them with a “you’re in BIG trouble mister!” statement.)

But they did respond – both at the same time. As soon as they spoke, I could tell they were relieved to see me. It seems the field I cut across, they ran all the way around. Turns out going around the field, especially when you are running away, is a much different experience than going across the field. Besides the briers and brambles, whatever they encountered, gave them enough incentive to be ready to be caught.

Just to offer a bit more leverage, I said,

“I’ve already called the sheriff and he is on his way. You’ve got two options. We can stay here and wait to talk to the sheriff or you can head back to the campsite with me right now.”

They had other options, of course, but they chose the latter.

“Fine. Then pull up your pants and tuck in your shirts. Let’s go.”

Heading back across the field, I changed my tone from authoritarian to counselor.

“The group is worried sick about you. My advice when you get back is to be humble and clear things up quickly.”

That was too much for them to take on board.

We gathered together and picked a spot to sit down. I started with explaining how compliant the boys were when I found them and that they were ready to clear things up. (I’m thinking this is going well. We will talk it out, have dinner and move on.) Not so fast. Back in the safety of the group, their countenance changed completely. Not for the better. They both went into a whole “thug”routine. It took several hours before they finally came back around.

It set off a tension that did not leave the group for several days down the river. Enough that my co-chief and I slept with their smelly boots in our tent for several days as a small insurance plan that they would not disappear at night. Being that close to home was tough on Jimmy. And being that close to Jimmy was tough on Tommy.

The best solution was to keep paddling and get as far downriver as we could. I moved Jimmy to the cargo area of my canoe the next day. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof and seemed ready to pounce at the first familiar landmark. After lunch, I stuck him in the bow seat and put a paddle in his hand to keep him occupied.

With some distance between us and Salisbury, both boys settled down completely. We finished the trip near the coast and had a great couple of days enjoying the beach. Jimmy and Tommy were great contributors to the groups and both did well when they returned home for good.

One of my biggest takeaways from my years in therapeutic camping is that I am no different from the so-called “troubled” boys. Our circumstances might be quite dissimilar; but when someone offers me an opportunity to cut across the field, and I choose to go around, I can end up in a lot of briers and brambles that could have been avoided.
We weren’t made to remain static in life but the unfortunate truth is that, sometimes the success we achieve serves only to widen our “comfort-zones” and leaves us quietly knowing there is more to life, while our habits serve only to maintain the status quo.
But I believe we were made with a purpose, and given unique gifts to use for good in the world. That’s why I created the Life Leaders GPS and it’s why I made a significant investment of my time and resources to build it in an online platform where it serves those who are ready to grow through life and have more confidence about the impact their life is making on others.





Rick Burris


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