A Good One

THE RIVER

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I live on a river. I mean, I should say I live beside a river, but actually if you go out on the deck off the living room and look down over the edge, the water is running beneath you. The river is right there and though I have known about this all my life, I have been noticing lately how it's always moving, always flowing, even in the dead of winter.

This river goes down just a few yards from the house and then drops precipitously; there is a falls out there, too. 

A falls? A fall? Hm.

I have been driving, driving, all over Vermont. I mean, this state is small and I thought I knew it pretty well, but start making hospice visits to people in their homes in Rochester and Tunbridge and Topsham and you learn a thing or two about Vermont and her geography and her people.

I was in a house yesterday that had been built over a barn. While I was sitting in the living room listening to the wife talk about how much she has loved her life with her husband of 60-something years, while he sat quietly in the chair, watching her with the blue-est eyes I have ever seen, the cows were bumping around, banging into things and making their cow noises below us. There was no mistaking that we were on a farm.

Cows, a river. The things that surround us, that are above and below us and beside us, teach us some things.

There are so many songs about rivers. As soon as you start thinking about it they well up and flood your head: I wish I had a river so long, I would teach my feet to fly; I went down to the river to pray; Moon river, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day; I give up, I've had enough, followed my blues on down to the gulf, she loves you big river more than me; Take me to the river, drop me in the water; Other great rivers add power to you, Yakima, Snake, and the Klickitat, too; I will walk alone, by the black muddy river, and sing me a song of my own, sing me a song of my own.

If we had all day I would keep going. Every great artist and some not so great has written a song about a river.

Why?

Well. One time when I was lamenting that I should have hopped on a gypsy caravan and acknowledged early on that I would never stay in one place too long in this life, the person hearing me said, We're not trees, Melissa, we don't need to put roots in the ground.

I think we sing all these songs about rivers because we're more like them than we are like trees, even though we so often aspire to root ourselves. Life is much easier, I have found, when I am in the habit of letting go, the way a river keeps moving and moving, not clinging to the bank or any rock or moment in time. The water flowing past my home reminds me of this every day. The water flowing through almost every town in this state tells the same story.

I told you not long ago, kind and lovely reader, about my new practice of giving away my favorite things. When it comes time to give a gift I ask myself, What do I love the most? What would be the hardest thing for me to give away? And then I give it away. Make no mistake; it is hard, hard to let go of the things I love.

I have a new habit, I'm working on this thing, and that is to let go of the thoughts and emotions that I want to hold tight to. I am angry or sad or disappointed and instead of gripping those emotions until they choke (me), I envision the river, I feel it moving through me, and I let that crap go. I try to, anyway. It's gonna take some time before this new practice is a habit.

It takes vigilance and awareness. And humility. I'm amazed when I realize how much I sometimes love my anger and frustration and sorrow and want to hold them and keep them, as if they were treasure.

The river is a very good teacher. I'm not the first to make this discovery, so it seems.

 

WHAT NATE SAID ONCE

When we were talking about the life he imagines for himself after college. When he told me he's looking forward to being married and having babies. How he imagines settling somewhere, the things he thinks about, what's important: mountains for skiing, meaningful work, a family.

Me: I'm sorry, Nate, that I have been such a wanderer through this life, I know it hasn't been easy for you guys. It seems I am a gypsy at heart.

Nate: I know, Mom, but it's OK; you're a good one.

 

HOPEFULLY NOT WASTING MY TIME

And the first river ever to have met the sea,
I believe he must've sighed and said
All this rambling I'm glad to finally find, that
After all I haven't just been wasting my time.

Amen.