No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and one is not the same person. – Heraclitus
I am returning to my blog and website after a long time away. Having been immersed in interim ministry that required the exhausting process of frequent relocation, and also finding my spiritual journey leading me into unexpected places that proved intensely challenging to my sense of who I was and what I saw as my purpose, my calling, I simply found it impossible to keep up the rhythm of regular writing. But as I transition from full to part-time work, and settle further into some new sense of calling, I return to this earlier project—
–but wonder what it means to go back to where one previously lived and worked, go back to a previous self, believing it might be possible to just pick up where one left off, only to discover the truth of what Heraclitus noted, that one never steps into the same river twice because neither the individual nor the river has remained the same. After having the unusual experience two years ago of returning to the city I once called home for more than 15 years, and also returning to the church that had launched me into ministry, I found, often with a measure of pain, that there truly is no stepping into the same river twice. That earlier river of home and career had changed almost beyond recognition during the two decades I had been away, and each change I found in turn pointed me towards the changes in myself. I kept looking for what might have remained intact; I never found it. The river, as long as it exists, never ceases flowing on.
I write this blog entry three weeks after one of my brothers died from complications due to alcoholism. While parent deaths are expected, to lose a sibling presents a kind of challenge to any thinking that might assume the river and the self remain unchanging and always available. My brother’s death has brought into sharp focus my own mortality, the steadily nearing horizon of my life, the reality that the movement of time does not stop as it brings new possibilities and closes off other possibilities.
There is no stepping into the same river twice, however much we might believe we can pull off such a feat. While our culture on all sides tempts us to take some action that might halt that river, might keep time from carrying us on, the river and our lives do not repeat, nor does time magically halt, much less turn back. All that we savor, all those we love, will ultimately be gone one day.
Today I stand on the river bank, savoring the illusion—and I understand, more than ever, how it is an illusion—that while the river flows past me, changing in every moment, I am unchanged so long as I stand on the bank rather than entering the river. I remember those I have loved who are gone now, keeping them with me in memory while also knowing those memories are already different from the real persons I once knew. I realize my life, like the river, is changing even as I stand here, that I am already not the same person I was before I walked over to the river. And I try to make my peace with the river that is my life, given to me from whatever headwaters provide the source of living, river and life flowing always towards an end I cannot see but know is there, the ocean that is the end of us all, waiting to gather us back.