No Safety Net
I hear the sound of water returning to itself. It falls and swirls and sings its way over the cold hard stones. The water is stuck in a never-ending cycle, falling downward only to be pushed back to its origins. Like Sisyphus it rises and falls, going nowhere, signifying what?
I walk down to the river into unfamiliar places carved by a fall storm of biblical proportions. The once familiar river, more a stream most seasons, now meanders through fields where Black Angus once grazed. The water makes its way into and out of its original bed, as per the fickle instructions of angry Mother Nature.
I find peace in the river, even in its altered state. In spite of the new twists and turns the river still knows where it’s going. It has begun its long journey from the majestic rockies to the sea. I sit on one of the few boulders I recognize, aspen leaves floating by. The river is moving. The river, she is not stuck.
I am. Stuck, that is. I’ve been through my own storm of biblical proportions and I feel more like the water feature in my backyard, cascading down and artificially pumped back to where I began. Anger and frustration intertwined.
The poet Mark Nepo knew a woodsman who said the reason people get lost in the forest is because they do not go far enough. They stop just before the way would have become clear, trying instead to return on a path no longer visible. “If we could only lean forward by what little light we are given,” Nepo says. He is allowed such confidence, having beaten cancer twice. He asks, “Can you endure your uncertainty until it shows you another deeper way?”
For all of my adult life I traveled with a safety net. I left home without it about six months ago. I stuffed the net in an old trunk. I was confident. But then the wind swirled around the tightrope I was walking, and the ground fell away beneath me. I straddled the wire and held on, swaying over the yawning abyss. Go back? Go forward? Both seemed impossible.
In March I visited friends in New England. The full moon cast its scattered shadow on fresh-fallen snow. The husband was not feeling well. His wife and I nestled by the fire. She looked at the stuck me and said matter-of-fact, “You can’t go back. You know that. You cannot go back. You have to let go.” She is a prophet. She tells the truth you do not want to hear, but must. You hear it because you know you are loved. All the way home I pondered her prophetic words.
I have to fill up the water feature every seven days. The water, weary of its circular journey, just evaporates. The babbling brook is not self-sustaining. It requires outside energy – electricity to run the pump and someone to fill the basin with unsuspecting fresh water, knowing nothing of the maddening journey on which it is about to embark.
The water feature has to be handled. The river does not have to be handled. In fact, if you have noticed, every time the Army Corps of Engineers tries to handle any river, it just makes things worse. Rivers cannot be handled. They must be trusted. Raging floodwaters or meandering stream, the river simply flows. It trusts its own flow.
I must trust the flow. I must let go of the rope, stand upright, and move forward through the swirling currents of air, one step at a time. I have no idea how I am going to stay upright.