Before the River Brings You Home

October 13, 2019

I let it go. It’s like swimming against the current. It exhausts you. After a while, whoever you are, you just have to let go, and the river brings you home. —Joanne Harris, Five Quarters of the Orange

I think of this quote when I’m climbing mountains high over the Hudson, an hour or two away from my hometown of New York City. That’s me going against the current, on a train along the water, as New York juts out somewhat abrasively at the mouth of the river.

In a literal sense, in history, the human relationship to rivers is one of exploration, invasion, trade, travel, wealth, labor, and art. Fertility and possibility. The river has, in all these ways, been a pathway to freedom from the confines of the homes some of us are born into. 

The rough current of the Hudson has been like a vein to my experience, as well as the artery leading away from my first home. I think we journey away from the heart of things —sometimes even against it— to better understand why it beats the way it does.

We go off, struggling for the chance to see what’s out in the great beyond, all the systems of life nourished by the same waters, drifting back, exhausted and as uncertain as ever. Returning makes good sense, as it is the only way we can really know how far we ever made it.

Then again, home never feels quite the same after you’ve been out on the river. When you let go of the idea of journeying, experiencing, differentiating, that steady stream brings you home to a place that is more like the home you need. 

The exercise, after all, is to brave it; to find a space between being present and envisioning, losing and reclaiming yourself, and then to see what things feel like when you step back onto land.

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