Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
We all have our secrets, if someone tells you differently they are selling a mistruth of the highest order. Each person harbors shadows and darkness that linger among the embers of the light. It is because of these shadows one can see how extremely fragile we are. This life is living as if a delicate flower waiting to bloom yet instead choosing to close off out of fear and a need for self protection. No one leaves this world unscathed, in fact we are all marred by missteps, regrets and an underlying sadness for what we had hoped life to be.
Nothing speaks more beautiful to the irony of this condition than William Stafford’s Ask Me. He states, “Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life.” Having always cherished time spent hearing others stories and words of wisdom, it is difficult to comprehend that I too have a plethora of life experiences, yet feel less than worthy of imparting any wisdom earned onto others. Simply put, I am still trying to figure it all out and am doubtful that I will ever have complete understanding. Can it be possible that life continues to ramble along leading one further into the clouded beneath of uncertainty and fear? Is the only true meaning of it all persevering regardless of uncertainty?
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
― Pema Chödrön
I am not alone in holding illusions and fantasies of what living a storied life entails. The house with a picket fence, well behaved children excelling at everything they undertake, a job that is both satisfying and financially rewarding, physical health the sustains throughout the years and love. All possible scenarios but not always accomplished in the same stride as others. The frustration of delays, detours or missteps along the way can lead one to doubt what if anything holds meaning and true value in the wells of our soul. What if anything matters at the end of days?
As a young girl I pictured myself experiencing a great love affair with someone that held my heart just as I held his. This love would know me from my earliest of days until my ultimate departure from this world, a familiarity that would be both comforting and enduring. As fate would have it, this was not in the cards for me. I did in fact have a long marriage that proved to be barren of love and appreciation. A dear friend once told me that nothing is more painful than indifference and this did, most sadly, prove to be true. I made myself small for two decades of my life and for that I harbor deep regret. Stafford’s line, “ask me what difference their strongest love or hate has made” speaks to me like no other. Hate can be as transformative as a powerful love in ways that reverberate throughout a body and soul. Hate and indifference block energy, creating barriers that can only be overcome with much time and self work. Pains such as these will be worn for as long as the river runs deep.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
― Gautama Buddha
Staying with the metaphor of a river, I can review my life and see that I continue to flow whether under the ice, in the depths or on the surface. It is never a matter of time standing still but rather a rushing forth of water the proceeds all else. Water can move mountains and so too can time. In fact, the only constant I see thus far is the march of time. Stafford continues with, “and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us.” What may seem like only the distance from one side of the bed to the other or one chair among many in an open room, is an acute representation of stillness often left unspoken. Distance is palpable even if only a few feet when defined by emotional numbness.
One of my main regrets is remaining in this space, this stillness, this separateness far too long. I am imperfect as are all others, yet I now choose to stand and speak my voice regardless of imperfections. If only I had known this a few decades ago, my river may have represented a much gentler flow with far less rapids and undertows. One might say however, that without all of those rapids I would never have reached this point of letting go. This may be true and as Stafford says in completion, “What the river says, that is what I say”. Here is to many more years of gently floating down the river of life, observing, learning and living.