“You cannot step into the same river twice.”
— Heraclitus, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives
Many years ago a river flowed slowly.
It wasn’t a river that anyone cared about. It wasn’t a river that carried ships filled with cargo. It wasn’t a river that was noticed on a map. It wasn’t even a river. It was just a creek, where some young boys went fishing.
During the long hot midwestern summers, a few friends would dig worms out of the ground, grab their fishing poles, hop on their bikes, and ride the gravel roads into the country. The black tires of their bikes turned white with limestone gravel dust.
After a mile or so, they would park their bikes along a bridge. They’d take their poles and their worms in one hand and scramble down the banks, using their other hands to balance. They’d walk back a little ways and sit down, hook a worm, and toss their lines in the water. Then they’d wait. The river flowed by slowly.
The afternoons were hot. The river was dirty. There was always a beer can laying somewhere in the weeds. If a can happened to float by, the boys would try to snag it with their hooks. Sometimes they would snag each other.
The boys would talk about little things. Baseball cards, vacations, friends, sports, or the impending doom of the first day of school. They would laugh. They would get mad. They would argue. They would chat. They would explore. They would dream. They would sit in silence. The river flowed by slowly.
Inevitably, the boys would get bored and pack up their poles. They’d scramble up the bank and hop on their bikes with the white tires. They’d ride back. Maybe they’d go hit a baseball. Maybe they’d just go home.
Not too many fish were ever caught in that creek. I don’t remember that we even got that excited when we did catch a fish. Maybe we did and it just doesn’t seem like such a big deal now. But we still rode to that creek every summer when we were young. As we grew older, we stopped going. Cars and girls became more important. The river kept flowing.
Yesterday, I ran by that spot on the road. I’d been by plenty of times over the years, but this time I stopped. I scrambled down the bank. Either the bank had gotten steeper, or I had gotten older. I choose to believe the former.
I stood in the spot where those fishing poles had been held. There was a beer can on the bank. No fish swam in the river. The river flowed by slowly.
To my knowledge, nothing remarkable ever happened on that river bank. At least not to anyone else. But to me, that time was remarkable. It was spent with friends, together, alongside that old muddy river bank. It was the connections to the other kids which made it special. We weren’t alone. We were together. Friends, just being friends.
I scrambled up the bank again and took another long look. A few fishing poles lingered in my mind, then faded into memory. It was the same place, but different. Always changing. Life flows on. I turned my back and left.
The river flowed slowly away.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Made another green run, this time stopping by a river flowing with memories.