More like rivers

Sunset on Mud Island, Aug 27 2011, Memphis, Tennessee Photo by SportsandHistoryReader521 CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunset on Mud Island, Aug 27 2011, Memphis, Tennessee
Photo by SportsandHistoryReader521 CC BY-SA 3.0

“At the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books.”
Norman Maclean

Jeff and I spent the first four years of our marriage in Memphis, Tennessee, while he attended dental school there.  I loved the city for many reasons, but what I loved most was the Mississippi River.  The downtown skyline went right to the river’s edge where it stopped abruptly, with lovely parks on the banks offering expansive views of the waterfront.

I had little experience with rivers of any size, but even so, I could see that the wide, steadily flowing river in front of me was exceptional.  What impressed me most was how relentlessly it moved; I had heard talk of rivers as slowly winding along, but this one always appeared to move faster than I expected.  I had never seen anything so immense travel so smoothly.  The ocean moves in waves, but as the legendary song says, “that old man river just keeps rolling along.”

When I read Maclean’s words about life being more like a river than a book, I thought of the Mississippi as I used to see it from Memphis.  So many adjectives come to mind that underscore the truth of Maclean’s observation: mighty, unceasing, changing, often beautiful, sometimes hard to contain.  Just as we can never step in the same river twice, it is impossible to arrest the forward motion of our lives, no matter how ideal we might find our present circumstances.

When we are young, we imagine that life will have a familiar narrative such as we have read in stories: a well-defined beginning, middle and end, with a fairly predictable outcome, notwithstanding a few plot twists here and there.  We think of ourselves as owning our lives, as we might own a book, holding it in our hands, finishing one chapter and beginning another when we choose.

How much more apt is the image of being swept along, moving a great distance in a relatively short time, traveling in one direction, never to return to the territory that lies behind.  The force of a river can be destructive, but throughout history, rivers have given birth to cities and civilizations, providing life-sustaining water that nourishes even as it erodes.

None of us can see what lies around the bend.  But the views are breathtaking, in every direction we look.  Today, I wish you time to enjoy the journey, and loyal traveling companions who share the joys and sorrows.

One year ago today:

A fascinating vitality


  1. Thank you, Julia!
    As you know, I grew up one vacant lot away from the Mississippi, north of Minneapolis in Brooklyn Center, where the river isn’t as wide as it is in Memphis. The canoe trip from Gail’s house to mine allowed a couple of options around one side or the other of several islands.
    Today I’m in Arizona, having taken a less-traveled channel of life’s river. I’m staying at my uncle’s house in Congress, and driving in to Surprise every day to visit him at his group home. It’s like a preview of what end-of-life can look like, for someone with genetics similar to mine. I can see my skin in his, and my eyes in his watery blue eyes.
    And I’m meeting amazing people I’d not have met, if I hadn’t tipped my canoe towards this side of the island.
    Good bless your day!

    • Susan, it can be frightening, but amazingly clarifying, to get a preview of what may lie in store for us if we are blessed to live long enough. The people one meets along the unexpected path are the great bonus, and make the journey bearable and sometimes even enjoyable. I’m glad you have the wisdom to see these facets of life. Thanks for sharing them here.

  2. Susan

    So true, Julia. Very profound.

    • Thank you Susan. Your steadfast presence and encouragement mean more than I can say! ❤

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