In this analogy, I can never quite decide if we are in the river, flowing through life, or if we are the banks on the river and life is flowing past us. Rivers are constantly changing, the same water never passes by twice so in that way life is the river and we are dwelling on the banks, bathing in the river, touching it, using it, watching it flow on.
But we also change; each moment we’re different, a product in progress of our ever changing experience; constantly being molded, shaped and reshaped by each sight and sound and feeling. Each conflict we face makes us a little different, a little wiser, a little humbler, a little more compassionate. Each betrayal makes us more fearful, or more cautious, or wiser. So we’re like the river too, changing and growing, deepening and widening.
I saw two young boys down by the creek near our house last week. I was walking with my girls in the jogger and it was hot and humid. But down by the creek it was shaded and cool; a cool breeze blew off the water. And in the dark shade of the surrounding oaks and aspens, under a light shower of falling leaves and pollen, these two boys worked on a raft. Their raft was made of wide planks lashed with thick rope. It was late afternoon and it looked like they’d been working on this project all day.
With unshakable concentration they worked together, giving orders and cooperating in such a way young children can only do when they are both equally and stoically committed to the same goal. They were now painting the planks; the raft was propped against the bank of the creek which I knew lead to a small and winding river which would eventually open up into Egret Lake.
As they worked they talked about what they would do when finally they set sail: they would fish and pump water from the cool depths of the lake; they would camp out for nights on the islands; they would build fires and cook their fish, eating only what they caught. They worked vigorously as they talked, painting, tying their sail to the broken ore that would be their mast.
For a whole hour I watched them from the shady foot bridge stretching over the place where their raft would make birth, rooting for them. My daughters slept in the warm stillness of the afternoon, not knowing that one day they would know what it felt like to hang all your life’s joy on the success of completing a project like this.
As I stood watching the two boys work, I remembered the projects my younger sister, Heidi and I used to throw ourselves into. One afternoon we hung eight hammocks in the crab apple tree in our front yard. My mother’s old sheets littered the foliage and she rolled her eyes and sighed something about looking like white trash to the whole neighborhood.
We tied the knots so that not even the strength of the wind or the neighborhood boys would be able to pull them out; we whispered and giggled and agreed to live in these hammocks for the duration of our family’s lease. What, we lamented, would we do when it was time for the family to move? We’d probably stay, we decided, living on in these thin sheets, swaying coolly in the shade of the tree. We agreed to sleep here every night, gather food from the nearby woods, we’d eat nuts and apples—only things we can find in the woods, we agreed.
I stood in the shade of the wooded creek as the sun began to sink below the trees and thought of my younger sister, and of how life changes so much. We can’t even fathom the changes that will take shape in our lives, the way the current will wear on us and the people in our lives, causing them and us to do things we couldn’t have predicted we’d do.
After years of working on our friendship, trying to be better, more honest and authentic friends than we were as children, she has stopped talking to me. Just like that, the currents of our lives split, divided unexpectedly and in a way that feels irreparable right now.
But everything changes; nothing stays the same; not the good or the bad. So when things are good, I try to enjoy life, soak it up, revel in it knowing that it is finite and fleeting and will be gone or different too soon. And when things are hard like they seem to be for so many right now, I cling to the rock, the promise that all things will be different soon. For better or worse, it will be different.