River pilots have been a mainstay of the great rivers of the world, and in the U.S. they taught many how to navigate dangerous places and waters. I’ve used this analogy in closed groups, and am now choosing to use it here in this space. I hope the message is one of hope. This is an imaginary conversation.
The master river pilot and I sit in the boat eating bread and cheese, drinking the cold water of the river we’ve been on. The pilot is silent and waiting for me, the student, to comment.
“Devastation and damage is there. That is what I see.”
“Is that all?”
I slice off more cheese and bread and drink the water.
“No, I see triumph and wisdom.” We turn back to view what was navigated, and we both sit in silence, thinking over the trip that has placed the boat in its current location.
WHOA! We both survey the damage, crazy as it is, and we embrace. I’m sobbing in joy and gratitude. I stammer an “I could not have done this alone,” and take the pilot’s hand. “You didn’t tell me how beautiful it would be, and I didn’t think I could see it this way. This river is magnificent! And so is the damage!” Yes, in my fresh realization I discover that the damage I have navigated has its own beauty.
We can see it all! The mountain and the sacred space. We can see the dark, creepy forests and the valleys that held spaces of peace. I wonder if the people that were there are still present, or if they have also left for new destinations. I notice a city and inhabitants exploring its environs; they are being told to get on the newer, more elaborate boat that has been brought to this point in time. I knew it was time for a new boat, and a new journey. I understood the pilot would not be as active this trip, but that if I asked for help and assistance, I would have it. I had grown much, and it was time to test my new strength against the currents on my own.
I remember the terror of boarding a tiny, dilapidated boat, feeling as if it would get me nowhere, and preparing to sink as I went out on the water. But I remember thinking that if I had to be on the water in this craft, I’d better do my best to save or repair it. And that is how the journey began. I remember beaching the craft and walking inland to a forest that looked dark and threatening. I sat on a rock and cried because I knew I had to go into that place and I was alone and fearful of journeying into the darkness. I wasn’t afraid of what I would find, but I was uncertain of navigating in the darkness. As I sat there, I heard the tinkle of bracelets and earrings. It was a gypsy lady! She was saucy and vibrant and said that she’d been in that particular forest in the past and would be glad to serve as a guide. Together we reached a meadow of great beauty where the gypsy helped me locate a magnificent chrysalis that was just about to hatch, and as we watched it, the most beautiful butterfly emerged. It was the soul of the woman who had gone into the forest!
“This is yours and it will be with you forever.” The memories come back and the memory of the bond between the two of us floods my mind. The butterfly has remained nearby as the journey has unfolded. It holds magnificent strength! I know now that I have been molded by this soaring creature of such beauty, and I still wonder why I have not captured its deeper essence.
In wondering about this, the butterfly responds to my heart:“You have! You have been so busy on the journey that you’ve failed to look in the mirror! All you see is the damage! You know the beauty is there, but have you really claimed it for yourself? You are aware of triumph and wisdom, but are you aware of them residing in you? Don’t you remember when I broke free? Don’t you remember how I soared? Do you think that was only the beauty of my wings? You doubted what I gave you, but I’ve been near you all of this time. I am you, in pureness! Take a fresh look at me!”
I return to the boat and realize I’m crying. I gasp for breath and try to calm myself.
The master looks at me, the student of the river, and echoes the butterfly: “Your butterfly joined you so long ago that I think you have forgotten her full power. You have held her close and soared, and at other times sunk into deep despair. She never left you, and when times required her to, she reached down and pulled you up to travel on the river another day. I sent the gypsy lady to you when you needed a primer that would serve you well and prove to you that you could do this work of Life.”
I sit speechless. What words can I use to respond to this? I don’t have words—only a realization that truth has been spoken.
“When I asked you what you saw, you spoke of the worst first. You have done this type of thinking for so long that it has become primary to your functioning, and yet when you stand tall and survey the surroundings, you also speak to the triumph, and finally, the wisdom that you have gained.”
The master teacher and navigator has me focus on the rapids that I so recently transited.
“Look! What is there?”
“Only triumph. I don’t see anything else. But you were there with me, guiding me through the rocks, and when the boat began to take on water you stood and watched as I bailed myself out.”
“I only did that to teach you to trust me as you never have trusted me before. I knew that in your heart you wanted to learn it for yourself. You have learned this part of the river well. Well enough to guide others. Look again and learn from the journey you have been on. You are not that scared, younger woman of so long ago. Look at your hands. Feel your strengths.”
Once again the truth is spoken to my heart.
In the past two years, the journey has taken me to many places on the river. It has been a transit and journey of a new type. Leaving the old and finding the new, only to discover that the old has served in ways I never felt it could.
The boat I am in now is simpler, yet sleek and modern. The guides who have served to enable me to navigate the rough stretches have come and gone. Each has taught me new things. Each guide has specialized in a very particular portion of the river. But the pilot who began the journey with me has remained.
As I think back over the journey, I’ve come to understand the lessons the river has taught me. Pain and growth, whether in childhood or adulthood, teach strong lessons. I’ve gathered them in and managed to weave something out of it all, yet I’m not quite certain what it is all about. I just know that it is there, and that someday I’ll look over it and maybe have some insight that isn’t present now.
What I have learned from all of this is that there are times when the insights we gather serve us well, and other times when our view can trap us into paths we’d rather not wander on.
So, as I pause on this river, look and observe, I can’t get too snarky or certain. I am, like each of you, a traveler on this river. I navigate it with respect. I turn to the master pilot and navigator and announce that it is time to run this new river area. I smile, get a slice of bread and cheese, and more fresh water. I wonder who the new guides will be. I wonder if I’ve learned enough to guide myself or others. I realize that it’s not my call. But the master of navigation seems to feel that I’m ready. I turn my back on the damage holding the triumph and wisdom in my heart and raise my voice to the skies in a way I have not done in two years.
“Okay, cast off!” I drop the ropes that have anchored the boat to shore and sing as I do so. The boat feels good and sturdy, and I know that on this new stretch I’ll learn, grow, and move in ways I have not done before. I wave to the navigator, who is once again on the shore but never out of contact range.
“Show me what you can do now! I’ve been waiting so long for you to run this portion of the river, and run it you will!”