A reader sent me an email the other day thanking me for a passage in my book Broken Open. She said it was helping her deal with her confusion and upset and grief about aging. I thought to myself, “Wow! I could use some help with that too.” Recently I’ve been rather shocked when I look in the mirror or feel a new ache in my knees or notice that my grandson is about to turn 9 years old. How did this all happen? So I thought I’d take a look at that passage. I wrote it 14 years ago (back when I thought 50 was old.) It’s called The River of Change, and I still agree with it!
"Life is always changing; you are always changing. You live in a river of change, and a river of change lives within you. Every day you’re given a choice: You can relax and float in the direction that the water flows, or you can swim hard against it. If you go with the river, the energy of a thousand mountain streams will be with you, filling your heart with courage and enthusiasm; if you resist the river, you will feel rankled and tired as you tread water, stuck in the same place."
If you had the patience and a high-powered microscope, you could sit and stare at your hand and watch the river of change flowing through your own body right now. You could watch your cells changing and dying and being replaced, over and over and over. From year to year every one of your cells is replaced. Literally, who you were yesterday is not who are today. Your skin is new every month, your liver every six weeks. When you inhale you breathe in elements from other organisms to create new cells, and when you exhale you send parts of yourself out into the atmosphere—into the living, breathing universe. “All of us,” writes the medical doctor, Deepak Chopra, “are much more like a river than anything frozen in time and space.
“I've known rivers,” writes Langston Hughes. “I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Am I going to flow with my river nature today, or am I going to swim against it? This is what I ask myself when I get out of bed each morning. And when I go to sleep, I apologize to the river gods for any hard strokes I made against the current, and for splashing about like a drowning person. I pray that tomorrow I may once again know the pleasure of following my soul downstream, because, I’ve known rivers—and once you’ve known rivers—once you’ve stretched out on the dark waters, trusting the river gods, going in the direction of life even if it is headfirst toward the rapids, you want to taste that water again; you want your soul to grow deep like the rivers again."