In late July, my wife and I traveled north to Sacramento to visit cousins, then on to the Oregon Coast to visit friends. I was surprised with what perceptions arose in each place, and how the two impressions ended up blending together.
I had lived in Sacramento in the mid-70s after college, trying my hand at selling real estate. I made many friends, and grew to appreciate the river, the parks, the Victorian houses, and the neighborhood I lived near the Capitol. I had not been back since. As we drove up the I-5, a lot of fond memories came back to me.
We had booked a hotel in Rancho Cordova to be close to where we were going to meet for dinner. As we came into the city and headed east on Highway 50, I was amazed at how much the city has sprawled and grown. Logically, I knew the population had tripled since I had lived and worked there and there would be changes. But I was surprised at how out of place I felt.
Memories kept coming as I thought of the people I knew back then and I wondered if I could trace them down. But as I remembered each person, I realized I’d lost touch with them and that most of them, no doubt, had died. It became clear that the life I had known was gone.
The next day we headed north to Oregon.
Our friends’ home is on the banks of the Siletz River at a point where the river flows into the sea. It’s a large, impressive river. I realized that, growing up in southern California, I was familiar with seasonal creeks but no real rivers.
Soon I was mesmerized as I sat quietly and watched the river flow. I thought of our countless ancestors who have watched rivers over the centuries, and who sensed they were watching the unending movement of time. Day-to-day, we live as if our lives are stable. But days, months, and years pass, and we realize life has always been quietly moving all around us, and our lives are part of that constant movement and change.
The melancholy feeling of loss I had visiting Sacramento came back, but I saw it in a new light. I understood it was just another example of life’s river flowing.
A verse from a 3-century old hymn began singing itself in my mind: “Time like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.” The hymn is based on a song of Israel, Psalm 90, which is itself 2,500 years old. That sense of being part of “an ever-flowing stream” is an ancient awareness.
A new thought arose: my time in Sacramento may have passed long ago, but many new people have come into that community with most of their lives are in front of them. New lives have replaced mine and all who are no longer there. And this is good.
I kept watching the Siletz River. I could look eastward and imagine, at the headwaters of every tributary, the water’s journey just beginning. Then I could look westward and see the waters finding their way to the sea. The waters will evaporate, form clouds, and bring rain, and the river will replenish itself. And this is good.
I’m grateful for what I have seen and what I can still see. And knowing what endures is not me but the river itself.
Top Image: Siletz River looking eastward; image below: the river as it merges with the sea. Photo credit: R. Ellsworth