While he is not going into his classroom, my 9-year-old son is still continuing with his third-grade work, which includes a “river study.” When we go out for walks and come by one of the many streams and tributaries that surround where we live, he explains that what we are seeing is the “young stage;” water close to the source, traveling to the larger bodies in which it empties. The river is young, but the source from which it comes is so ancient—mountains that have themselves been formed and worn over time.
Like many of us, I often sit by streams and small rivers, like the Mill River that flows through the Smith campus, for solace and inspiration. It is almost impossible to sit and watch a moving body of water like that and not learn from it. It moves at its own pace. It carries with it pieces of natural debris. It gets stuck on things, but forms eddies, wherein there is a respite from the forward motion. It travels alone, yet is part of every other body to which it is connected.
We often describe sadness, or what we are experiencing when under stress, as like the ocean—we ride out the waves. We do not feel the strongest sting of the disbelief all the time, it ebbs and flows from pain to periods of relief and understanding. But I think confusion; whatever state we might find we are moving in and out of during this time, can also be compared to a bubbling stream or a rolling body of water. Many of us, seniors in particular, or anyone for whom the semester was cut short by the Covid-19 evacuation without the prospect of reconvening in the fall, are possibly feeling these ripples, of shock and disorientation.
Watching water can bring home to us the notion that grief must be allowed to arise, as it will help to draw back the more unmanageable feelings of shock and disorientation. When we are stunned it is hard to move forward, but we often stay there because some part of us thinks it is going to be easier to handle than grief. But grief and sadness come in waves, in ripples, and they flow to a greater good which sustains and nourishes us.
If you can, watch some water this week. if you can’t get to any, watch a short video of a stream or river. Note the intense consistency in pattern and the wild divergence in pattern. Streams and rivers can teach us to remain fluid and dynamic, yet connected and moving forward. Being like water we can recognize that feelings can always be swept away, but our connection to our source is permanent.
In the words of Poet René Maria Rilke,
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.