Many summers ago I was sitting on the levee watching the Mississippi, that venerable old man of rivers, as sacred as the Ganges and the Nile, proud and steady with a thousand tales screaming silently to be told. Though I had seen the river hundreds of times, it was during this one particular visit that I perceived it on its own terms. I felt as though I was seeing something observed before but only now fully realized in its own complexion and varied temperament for the first time.
Gazing out across its breadth to the levee on the west side I could sense an eddy of indignant silted undercurrents beneath illusions of graceful running water, defying its southerly pull. It is as though the river is at war with itself or at least in a heated discussion. I stood there thinking of all it has witnessed, all it has heard and all it has gathered throughout the ages on it journey from Minnesota. It’s no wonder the currents are of different opinions… as life and death vicariously acting out amidst the churning mud.
A summer storm suddenly materialized and I ran for cover under an old oak tree, graced with huge limbs that welcomed me to its side; a trusted friend that stood erect through more history than I could comprehend. I saw the steady cascade of rain causing the opaque waters to dance on the surface, as the distant clapping of thunder gave instruction and direction to the discharge of lightning in the blackening sky.
The sky became more ominous as thunder and lightning now seemed to trade insults in a contest of will. The rain was pouring in layered sheets of water, strong and determined, drenching the earth. The river, even more alive, animated and hypnotic as I sat transfixed; water dancing on the surface taking a more ethereal stance than before.
But on the opposite levy from where I stood the sun was out and luminous, as its rays streaked through the stately trees on the river side of the levy. The sky was a brilliant color blue, as I stood mesmerized by the undulating water lying close to the river’s banks and the expanse of heaven above. It was as though I could reach out and touch the sky with a ladle and swallow the firmament.
I stood in fear at the sight of this storm, and in wonder of the clear sky to the right. In one brief and magical moment that seemed to last hours, I felt a calm emanating from within, touching each fiber of my being. In the midst of the turmoil and bliss, I heard this majestic river call my name and speak to me.
I was most certainly baptized that day, and my church was the very world I questioned. A veil lifted, blind eyes could see and black and white turned into the colors of creation. We only have one choice in life, despite all its turmoil and equally all its beauty, and, that is to say, yes!
My mind persists in thinking of the newfound respect for the Mississippi I considered on that summer’s day, watching the water tease me, luring me into some unknown wisdom. My appreciation extended to all distances my life would take as the river does not control life, it gives it freedom to become what it should. And though it can seem to manipulate and take away, under the surface it will bequeath riches and council on the virgin path.
You might be in darkness but a light will come, like the fire Prometheus stole from Zeus, light as before the world knew light existed, a spark of metaphysical fire. I sensed it there in the Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees along the water’s edge, completely illuminated against the current. The path will come as the future continuously idles its way to the present.
The river… that rich fluidity of my temporal self and of my spirit, reached out, embracing my soul and I ceased being what I was and became as I am.