Just Like a River

I went to an Astro’s game on Memorial Day. As I looked around me and took in the crowd, all the fans and so many young boys in caps with their gloves, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of normalcy. It seemed like life as it should be. The past year of was a stomach turning shoot down the rapids at Stinky Falls in New Braunfels (where I spent my summer Saturdays).

I grew up each summer on a river. We camped out, fished, and swam up and down the wild shores every year. It was an adventure, I didn’t realize at the time, I was building into my memory. I just thought it was how every kid was supposed to “do” summer. So many of my summers in the Texas Hill Country were on a river. It gets hot in the summer! Not just the Llano, but the Comal, Guadalupe and Frio rivers are in my soul. I also swallowed a lot of water from each river every time I was pulled under their rapids. 

For me, when I think, dream and write about living, a river is the picture I paint. Those of you who read, know that this is a very common practice. If you take a minute to reflect, you’ll see that your life has had dangerous rapids, mysterious turns, predictable stillness, muddy banks and deep calms. 

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” ― Norman Maclean

While we watch the enormous social changes talked about on our screens every other day – global pandemics, economic shifts, wars and rumors of wars, racial conflicts, new levels of political correctness going right and wrong… remember that the river of living keeps on moving – through every single landscape.

Ten perfect Florida places to float a tube down a river | Summer Guide |  Orlando | Orlando Weekly

Everyone has had weddings, funerals, graduations, surgeries, dates, doctor visits and a few planned trips. Our nieces, nephews, cousins and children keep growing up and moving on into their next chapter. All happening despite whatever current catastrophe or historic event is or is not upon us. It’s always been that way.

Living life rolls on, despite the larger than life crisis that might be looming over the next horizon. Most people have had to figure out ways to keep living, to keep floating, as the river pushes us onward. All of us know people who have struggled to keep their heads above the water. But the water keeps moving onward, pushing and pulling everything toward something else. 

When you sweep down the river rapids, hold your arms and legs up. The inner tube is blazing hot on the top from the sun. the sound of the water gets louder by the second. Keep an eye out on others ahead of you. Maybe you can quickly figure out someone else’s mistakes and make an adjustment or two in a microsecond. But, in a few minutes, it’s going to be all over and you’ll be shot out into calmer waters, sitting safely atop your tube or gasping for breath from under the current. 

I was telling friends the other day about how our neighborhood experienced the 500 year flood in 2017. All of us rushing through the roaring rapids. It’s now a memory and adventure, like so many others through time, to share around the campfire. At the time it consumed us. Now it’s an adventure story about navigating dangerous rapids. Here we are, on a different part of the river, trying to stay afloat in different ways. 

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island, among others)

I’m looking at old photos now. All those summers spent on those rivers. Sacred memories sealed into my everyday living like handprints in wet concrete. I can’t forget those rides through the rapids or the long peaceful floats. They are all one long river flowing through the living of life. In the end, what always matters is the time spent floating, mile after mile down the longer river. That’s what living is, really. Every passage of time, relationship we build, weddings, graduations, hospital visits, shared meals, road trips, they all matter. All compose the perpetual  float. I hope you like opera, this one never seems to end. 

Low turnout for Labor Day float down Sacramento River as Chico State  students are gone | KRCR

I watched a news story this morning. Someone interviewed a historian about parallel’s between now and the last pandemic, the 1918 Influenza Outbreak. Once it subsided we experienced the Roaring ’20’s. The news story was about the possibility that we might be leaping into a boom time, with bobbed hairdo’s even!

No one mentioned the Great Depression. 

Typically, after the ride down the rapids, few remember the first quarter mile of riverbank scenery. Too much excitement and relief shared among the floaters and boaters. The truth is, there’s always been a longer story to see, more living to swim in whether we notice or not. The wise on the river are able to pay attention and not get distracted by the siren song of past adventures or barely escaped dangers. There will surely be another bend, more noisy waters and care to be taken in the navigation of living. 

Being swept down the rapids, that happen now and then, aren’t the river. The young and inexperienced tend to look only at the fast waters. All the froth and fun distracts from the long view. As Robert Frost wrote, there are miles to go. The river is more than all the turbulence, rising floods, drought dried mud and deeply dark pools under the pecan trees. Sometimes, you have to go a few more miles before you’ll know for certain.

“I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever
At the bottom of my dream.”
― Henry David Thoreau

As I lay my head back on my hot inner tube and feel the cool water run past my body, I know that all of this is life. As the sun starts to set, the frogs in the mud start their songs, a chorus sung for thousands and thousands of years. It’s more difficult to hear and now see that water rolling past as the darkness falls. Maybe a moon will rise up over the hill? Maybe I’ll get better at looking, noticing what’s always been all around me. 

A feather’s not a bird
The rain is not the sea
A stone is not a mountain
But a river runs through me
– Roseanne Cash

Always Worth Remembering

“I would like to learn, or remember, how to live.” ― Annie Dillard

  • Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
  • Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.  Did you realize it was that recent a holiday? (www.history.com)
  • Each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. A “Taps Across America” is planned for this year. Click on the link to learn more. I remember being in Galveston for dinner one evening and discovering there was a veteran who played “Taps” each evening from the balcony across the intersection. All the other residents, business owners and tourists gathered together in the cool breeze and stood in honor for those few minutes, all together as one.

Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. That holiday, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, November 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.'” As such, this new legal holiday honored World War I veterans. In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars. (www.military.com)

You have people in your family or circle who have served in the military. Some have given their lives in that service. Of course you always remember them. But most importantly, don’t forget to bear their memory to the next generation. Tell your friends, loved ones, children and their ancestors about who they were. Don’t limit their lives to this tremendous service, open their story and tell some of the details to others.

I’ve got a platform in the classes I teach to talk about world events. World War 2 dramatically changed the fortunes of my family. Every male in my grandfathers immediate family served in the war, and all returned home! It was a very large family. I try and explain to others the dramatic change in fortunes this experience had on our extended family for generations to come. What I don’t do is tell the individual stories enough, how those young men left the hard scrabble of the Texas Hill Country and changed the world.

I just told my daughter that her great-grandfather, who served in WW2, helped to rebuild the bridge over the Llano River back in the 1930’s. It was a public works program, one of thousands that FDR had launched to help get us out of the Great Depression. My daughter is a history teacher, I knew she’d appreciate this part of the story. Also, a little drama, he fell off while working on it!

There are heroes in your life, aren’t there?

What about making your new normal life one that is lived passing down the memory of heroic figures in your life to the next generation? It seems we are surrounded by anti-heroes these days. These make for much better television.

There’s a box on my table that I’m collecting old framed photos into. My plan is to send to a cousin so he can hold these memories as I have. He’s got a young son who needs to hear about his ancestors and who he came from.

Why don’t you decide to hang up a picture, have more family dinners with no technology, make a phone call or write something down? Make an extra effort to remember aloud people who made a difference and whose deeds and values still could? Make a kind of memorial day in your life for the sake of others who need some nourishment.

I made some cookies the other day. The kind my grandmother used to make. None of us are supposed to be eating cookies these days, so there’s no one to share with. The act reminded me of a memory of place. There are people in your life who were significant, but there were also places and times. These should be remembered too. My grandmother had a little narrow kitchen, no appliances to speak of (certainly not a dishwasher!), yet she cooked and baked plain old memories for her family. My version of those cookies don’t seem right, but they did the trick. I remember the place so long ago and how happy it made all of us because we were loved.

“As you get older, it’s more difficult to have heroes, but it’s just as necessary.”
― Ernest Hemmingway

And then, there’s all the health and wealth that remembering brings to your own self. Don’t forget these people for all of the subtle influence, the investment of time and attention, the examples of character and love. Remember the heroes from the past and what each has planted in the soil of your life.

“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts…. We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.” ― Frederick Buechner