Rivers are My Roads
Patti Callahan Henry
Rivers are my roads. When others talk about their “road of life” or “the narrow road” or any other “road” metaphor, I see a river in my mind’s eye. Right now I live along the Chattahoochee River, but we’re moving. I’ve lived here for sixteen years and I walk along the red-mud pathways while I untangle plot lines and my own life story. When I am near this flowing water, near any river at all, something warm and happy opens inside me.
I am today mourning the loss of this river and how I will no longer walk its jagged edge, watching the seasons change and the water turn from muddy to clear after a storm. I am sad that I might lose the lessons it teaches me about impermanence and change and the beauty and necessity of silence in a noisy world. Then I have a brilliant plan: I will take part of this river with me when I leave. I’ll get a vial or even a large bottle and fill the container with this muddy water and place it on my new desk in my new home in Alabama.
Yes, what a fantastic plan. I’ll look at that river and remember and keep it with me. Thrilled with my brilliant plan, I stand too long watching a grey heron (if one can ever stand too long watching a grey heron) perched on a rock, still and silent as everything flows by and it is only now I realize this stunning fact: the water isn’t the river. Nope. The water flows through the river, going wherever it is that rivers go. But the water is not the river itself. Like energy or emotions passing through me, but going wherever it is that energy or emotions go when they pass.
And then that beloved river offers me another lesson – I do this possessing thing too much. I love thoroughly and then I try to take a piece of whatever or whoever I love and carry it with me, own it, make it completely mine because it or they make me completely happy. If I love something or someone, I want to keep it or them; who doesn’t?
So what is this thing about loving without having? Is it about taking the joy and the peace or whatever is offered and leaving the thing itself alone? Is it about walking away and allowing myself to love without keeping or having or owning? No! Everything in me screams “No”. I want to scoop up that river and put it in my new backyard and walk its shores and listen to its whispers.
Absurd, I know.
But seriously, I would if I could.
It’s not lost on me that this feeling of possession is also about the fact that my daughter is graduating and leaving for college at the same time that we are moving.
Standing on that riverbank, I learn again and again and again what I know but forget: Sometimes I have to love without having, possessing or owning.
I’ll still probably take a vial of that river water to my new home, but only as a reminder of joy, not as an owner of joy. I can take the memories and the love with me, but I can’t take the river.