“The river is one of my favorite metaphors, the symbol of the great flow of Life Itself. The river begins at Source, and returns to Source unerringly. This happens every single time, without exception. We are no different.”—Jeffery. R. Anderson
Beginning in her first year of life, my husband, John, and I traveled frequently with our daughter, Madelyn. The road trips took us to locations all over the United States and several locations in Canada. It was common, when Maddie was a young girl, for her to break down and cry dolorously for an hour or so, on our return drive home from these trips.
The first time this occurred, I asked her, with great concern, what was wrong. She explained that she did not want the vacation experience to end, and she wanted to remain in the location in which we had stayed. John and I would attempt to explain that the place would no longer seem special if we lived there. We further encouraged her to focus on all the good memories we created, and how wonderful it was to spend time together in such a special way. Despite our best efforts to cheer her, she was attached to her feeling, to her story. She had to cry as a way to release her grief and her attachment to the illusion that life should always be like vacation.
Likewise, the Ohio River has risen due to frequent and heavy rains and snowmelt. In fact, the mighty Ohio has risen to such levels that I recently watched with great interest as the floodwall gates, along the Ohio River in Huntington, WV, were closed to the public and sturdy-looking metal inserts were tightly locked into place. Furthermore, streams, such as nearby Symmes Creek, a 76.4-mile-long tributary of the Ohio River in southern Ohio, began to overflow their banks and spill out into roadways making travel challenging if not impossible.
Numerous residents were trapped in their homes unable to report to work due to road closures. Those who could get to work were often spending double, or even triple, the amount of drive time traveling to and from work. Additionally, there were homes either destroyed or damaged by floodwaters. These stories filled the news each evening as more predictions of rain filled the weather headlines.
Even as the waters began to recede though, other negative concerns have arisen. Roads that were already pocked with the small potholes from the freeze-thaw cycle of winter are now burgeoning with ever expanding potholes caused by the erosion of floodwaters. Furthermore, trash, debris, refuse, and junk litter the river and stream banks as well as the roadways. While our tendency is to focus on such negative implications of floodwaters, we tend forget that by their nature, rivers flood. It is part of their natural process; and, yes, there are actually benefits of a flood.
As best I understand it, the right amount of flooding is good for the flood plain lands that are often used for agriculture. Flooding makes these grounds more fertile and productive by overflowing the soil with vital and enriching nutrients. In return, fresh nutrients from the soil are also infused back into the rivers, lakes, and streams thereby improving the vitality for the fish and other wild life contained within. Sometimes, floodwaters relocate fish and other living organisms into other water bodies. This often improves and brings increased balance into the ecosystem as new predators and prey species are introduced into the aquatic population. Floodwaters also recharge the groundwater, which has overall benefits for humans and wildlife alike. Finally, I have to believe that the powerful way in which floodwaters spew out the physical trash also offers an overall benefit to the health of the water. Despite these benefits, it is human nature for us to resist flooding in the same way Maddie sorrowfully resisted the transition from vacation to normal life.
Both of these stories are a metaphor to an issue with which I have been wrestling– attachment to the story: How life should flow as written by the great know-it-all Steph. Life, like the Ohio River, should flow smoothly and remain within its known boundaries. Sure, the river bends and curves, but you see those ahead of time and know how to prepare for them. The fallacy with my attachment to this story is that if I were to really examine the river, I would see that it is in state of continual change. Some changes are almost imperceptible while other changes occur dramatically and sometimes cataclysmically.
Like the flooding, life’s so called catastrophes, as bad, as awful, and as troubling as they can seem, often have a positive side—even if those positives may not be recognizable until years later. Sometimes, the benefit may be as simple as an enhanced appreciation for health, family, and/or friends, while other advantages may include a more resilient immune system, mind, or emotional-well being. In spite of all of Maddie’s tears at the end of a vacation, she still grew and gained insight from each new place visited; and, as a result, she is more knowledgeable, open-minded, and can adapt easily to new situations.
When we attach to the story of how things should be, we actually create more personal mental suffering and anguish. Thus, we often cry and/or mourn what we perceive as loss, losing sight of all the good and wondrous events occurring all around us. It is often through those watershed moments, life is infusing us with nutrient-rich experiences that greater inform us, introduce new people and understandings, create more balance and harmony, as well as clears mental and physical debris and clutter.
Meanwhile, during all of our collective worry and focus on the flooding, the cycle of life renewed itself. Spring peepers can now be heard at night, hyacinths have quietly bloomed, grass is beginning to grow, and our willow trees are sprouting new green leaves. When we detach from the story, we are able to see our watershed moments do indeed lead to our own spring-like renewal and return to us our source in the same way the river starts and ends at its source.