Here’s What the River Taught Me

The unpaved road began just minutes after my GPS died. My car and I were now crawling along a single skinny lane with rolling river on one side and thick, towering forest on the other. Thankfully, I was following someone who knew the rest of the way.

Dust kicked up from the car I was following, colliding into the rays of an early evening sun, nearly blinding me. The only option I had left was to let the river lead the way. And it did. It still has.

The cabin was modest, per my memory, but I really can’t say what it looked like because all I could see was the view. I dropped my bags inside then went directly to the wrap around porch to hear what the river had to tell me. It told me to breathe. It told me to let go.

I’m grateful to live in a corner of this planet so abundant with beauty. I see rivers on my hikes, but none with this type of presence. I see birds, both big and small, but none so free. The fireflies are brighter here. The rabbits have no fear. If this is what peace feels like, please serve me another slice.

What I hear from the river is a different tale from what I see. The river looks calm, slow. It sounds angry and dangerous. I can’t tell you how long my brain and I sat trying to reconcile those two things. When we realized we couldn’t, we took pleasure in the realization that we shouldn’t. The river just is, as we all are. That was a lesson the river taught me.

2020 was hell. I’ve not recovered from it, mostly because 2020 has bled into this year and kept the world in purgatory. I see a lot of similarities between the pandemic and my years dealing with desmoid tumors. Ending chemo was supposed to feel victorious, but it left me in a sort of suspended animation. The worst is over (or is it?). I’m still waiting for the best that’s yet to come.

The river taught me there is no finish line. Its waters won’t stop. They will meet new borders and be given a different name. Or merge into more water and become something familiar, but new. As we all will, as we all do. Even in the chaos of change, the beauty still remains.

There is no end to this pandemic. At least there is not the end I envisioned. Just like there has been no happy ending to my disease, no definitive line in the sand. I live in limbo. Tumors are growing, but not enough to need chemo, see you again in a year. Yes, covid cases were down. Yes, you’ve been vaccinated. Now welcome the new variant to town.

The river taught me to look for the beauty of just being. The river has one job, to go. What gets in its way matters not. It doesn’t look ahead with impending doom. It can’t look back. That’s long gone. The river can’t stop to make a better plan. It can’t regret where it’s been. It just goes.

The river that sounds so loud and looks so calm is telling you who it is, but only after you sit with it for awhile. Only when you let it tell you the whole story. Over a lifetime, perhaps. But first you have to accept that it is. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. It just is.

The river taught me that it can survive no matter the circumstances, but will thrive according to what it’s fed. Give it respect, reverence. Protect it. Give it space. Let the river be what it is, not what you want it to be. You don’t own the river and the river doesn’t owe you a damn thing. But if you love it the way it deserves, the river will give you all that it has.

For two days I sat, watching the river with all the eyes I have. I see the beauty. I hear the roar. My heart and its heart had a love affair. I feel it in my bones still, a week and many miles away.

I’m tired, as you are. I’m sad. I’m afraid. But I’m alive. I am. The river taught me to close my eyes and see it flow. The river taught me to focus on what is. Not what could be. Not what once was. This moment here, right now.

The river taught me to sit awhile and just be me. We are the river, you and I, just as we are. And that’s all we’ll ever need to be, so let’s go.