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