The River

I sit on the bank of a small river, no wider than a little brook. I stare beyond my feet and into the flowing water, unsure how long I had been sitting there. It had been a while.


My hefty backpack still sits on my back, along with the thick boots on my feet; in my exhaustion, I couldn’t find the energy to take them off. Even now, it somehow feels easier to keep everything on, even though my body aches from the weight of it all.


My map lies on the cusp of the brook-river. I let it fall out of my hand when I sat down, and it had floated right down on the water line – not far enough in to be swept away, but close enough to invite the water to saturate its surface. I watched the colors slowly bleed into each other and then disappear into the current.


I continue to stare, making no effort to rid myself of the weight of my supplies or to salvage my guide.


Time to get up.


Come on! Let’s keep going.


You can do this. You’re ready for the next leg.


My mind whispers to me, desperately trying to motivate me to get up and continue on my journey. It knows that the final destination will make the grueling expedition worth it; yet nothing it says can convince me to stand up and start putting on foot in front of the other again. My mind wants me to get up; my body, and my heart, don’t.


I sink deeper into the mud of the riverbank.


My vision blurs as I listen to the sound of the water softly flowing over the rocks. Birds chirp in the distance. Perhaps a fish or two jumps out of the water – I can’t quite tell the difference between the splashes of the fish and those of the birds.


The wind blows some of my hair into my face; an annoyance, but I haven’t the energy to move it.


Who is this once-fearless explorer, sitting all by herself at the edge of the smallest river in the middle of nowhere, utterly devoid of any desire to keep going?


Time passes; seconds, minutes, or hours, I’m not sure. I turn my gaze and focus my eyes on my map again, which has now bled out. My guide has disappeared; I have no direction anymore. Nothing to tell me where to go or what to do.


The weight of my gear becomes heavier, and I shift my eyes back to the bubbling stream.


I am lost.


And I am alone.


My head drops as a single tear rolls down my cheek, crying for help, but knowing no one would hear me.


But evidently someone did.


A stranger emerges from the trees behind me, and silently sits down next to me. Or perhaps they have been there the whole time; to be honest, I’m quite sure when they arrived exactly. But I’m aware of their presence now.


In my shame, though, I dare not look at them because I know who it is; I don’t know how they have found me, or how they heard me, but somehow they did.


I keep my eyes fixed on the water, remembering all that I had forgotten about the masterful guide that now sits mere feet away from me.


I had trusted them once.


I listened with reverence when they asked me, With your eyes so focused on your map, how can you take in the beauty of the journey?


Their question cut through to my core.


So I threw away my tried-and-true maps to let them teach me; I followed them as they co-guided new expeditions with me. I took in everything they had to say, all the wisdom I could glean from them. The possibilities they showed me were stunning and breathtaking; I wanted to voyage the way they did.


And when they said that I was ready to lead the way and voyage on my own, I felt ecstatic.


But as I started my first solo journey, keeping my eyes up and out of any maps, I saw landscapes and creatures and darkness that I had never seen before. I stumbled. I fell. I got scratched and bruised and beaten by the wilderness. I was left to fend for myself with no one close by to help.


I began to question myself – I began to question their teaching. Trust – in both myself and my teacher – began to crumble.


Fear quickly took over, and in my terror, I snatched my map out of my backpack. Determined to continue navigating on my own, I tried to use the map only to reinforce that I was on the right track.


But using both my teacher’s wisdom and the map exhausted me; my load felt heavier with every step, until I collapsed here at the river under the weight.


I still sit there: exhausted, confused, hopeless.


And feeling ashamed that I had let them down, and embarrassed at my own stubbornness that prevented me from calling for help.


Feeling hopeless that I had failed, believing that I will always be destined to use a map, rather than enjoy the journey.


Feeling angry that they had left me alone before I was ready, blaming them for my wounds.


We sit together in silence.


Stubbornness and shame keep my eyes glued to the stream.


I want them to go away – yet I desperately want them to stay.


I want to keep my backpack on – yet I want nothing more than to take it off.


I want to motivate myself to get back up and keep going – yet I want someone to help me.


I want to prove that I can do it.


Yet here I sit.


I don’t know if I’m ready to face them yet; I don’t know if I’m ready to trust them again yet.


We continue to share the silence, listening to the stream.


Eventually, they offer the softest sentiment:


When you’re ready, let’s take a walk upstream.


My muscles relax ever so slightly, and my heart softens.


I’m not ready yet, but something about that simple statement makes me trust them to stay with me until I am.


… … …


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Photo credit: Karim Sakhibgareev from Unsplash