The River

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail :
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.

-Excerpt from “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

When I was a young child, my grandparents owned a small cottage in the countryside, far from the bustle of Chicago and before the suburbs exploded and there was still naught but corn for miles. They had no cable there and the only thing to really watch was countless reruns of Saved by the Bell. But behind the cottage and just beyond the backyard was a small river that my brother and I were allowed to play in while my mother kept an eye on us. We would prance throughout the shallows, slipping and sliding on rocks worn smooth with the constant, steady flow of the river. Not long after our visit, though, my grandparents sold the cottage, leaving me with only memories of Bayside High School and the feeling of river rocks smooth beneath my feet.

The middle of the night has always been a time for discussion for me. Some of the most important conversations in my life have happened around the midnight hour. The other night was no different. I was talking with Ange again about the changes in her path and I expressed my disappointment that I couldn’t sum up the base of my spirituality in a few words, that I didn’t think I had a few images that formed a basic symbol of my path.

“Well, I guess that’s not true. Roads and rivers have always been pretty important,” I corrected myself.

My path has always strayed to the in-between places, the liminal space between the more defined areas. Often, I’ve found myself straddling the two sides of a coin, neither heads nor tails, but both and neither at the same time. The gods I walk beside rule this space between places, too. “I sure picked the right gods,” as Ange said. Or, rather, they chose me.

It’s a gray space, this line between lands. Neither black nor white; red nor blue, nor any other color. All colors and yet none paint this place. It is a place of shadows where light and dark shift and shimmer and shade. Nothing truly has dominance here.

Rivers reflect that for me. They are the source of life for many civilizations. In the ancient world, to find a river was to find a life source, for the river would provide water to drink and its current would mean it could not stagnate and, thus, would carry away pestilence and waste. It would remain fine to drink, so long as the mountain streams continued to provide for it. Fish, too, are often plentiful in rivers, providing food for those nearby.

But the river was not just a source of life, as those who strayed too far into its waters would quickly find. Drowned or their body dashed against the hidden rocks beneath its waters. For rivers, too, demand a price for all their gifts. It, too, can take life as soon as grant it.

‘Cause she’s a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made
But oh, my love, don’t forget me
When I let the water take me

-“What the Water Gave Me,” Florence + the Machine

There is something about a river that I find myself drawn to, that I am always walking towards. I relish the feeling of its constant flow over my bare feet as I stride past its banks, the feeling of being part of it and separate at the same time, the knowledge that this river will always be that river and yet never the same as it is in that particular moment.

Its power, too, is something to behold. One merely needs to peer across the Grand Canyon to realize that.

But there is something about the river that draws me in, every time. Something that speaks to me, that I will always find myself turning back to. Its constant state of existence and yet the consistent state of change that is woven into its nature.

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