River Speak

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.

 Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It

 

For my final post it seems appropriate to return to the subject of my very first piece – the little river that flows into Lake Zug.

I ran beside it on my first day here in Switzerland, and I remember how strange and new it all was.The startling smell of fresh manure, the feeling of the clean Alpine air in my lungs, and the guttural sound of the Swiss-German words coming from strangers on the trail.

And now I’ve witnessed the four seasons; I’ve watched the fields being plowed and planted, fertilized and then harvested of the unfamiliar, golden grains. I’ve observed shaggy cows frolicking, chickens scratching at the dust, and marble-eyed goats simply hanging out (I figured out that’s all they do, really.)

I’ve run on days when the fog was so thick I could barely see my own shoes. And also on days when the clear Swiss air made the mountain peaks rising out of the lake glitter, like in a snow globe.

Today, running down to my favorite little rocky spot, the sound of the rushing water is comforting and familiar. Rivers have always made me feel secure and hopeful, as they dutifully traverse the miles, through the countryside and on to the cities, all the way out to the great, wide ocean.

They seem to look ahead to brighter times, to fresh vistas. They churn out constant energy, transforming from one shape to the next, taking bits and pieces from the rock bed as they rush on by.

I like to think my time here has been a little like that. I’ve been running pretty consistently, sometimes with purpose, sometimes lazily meandering. And the waters have worn me down gently like a stone.

And gradually the shape of my life has changed.

Because the river has awoken a new passion in me.The chortling burble and splash of the waters have been like a language, flowing across my mind, speaking to me. Little ripples of inspiration and encouragement, buoying me along – awakening me to write.

People ask me what has been the most important thing I’ve learned while abroad. Honestly, the biggest thing I’ve discovered here in Switzerland has been my own voice.

Reading back over my early posts, I try to remember what my goal was – what was I trying to do with my writing? I know that I wanted to have some kind of record, to remember our time here, but I didn’t want it to be a detailed travel blog. Mainly, I just wanted to write as honestly as I could.

But in order to do that, I had to find my voice. And to somehow find a way to be understood, to myself, and also to you.

So much in life is about communicating, and to do that, it takes a commitment from both sides. We need to speak clearly and sometimes repeat ourselves, change words around, edit, rephrase. And we want to sound like ourselves, not false or affected.

It’s all part of claiming our voice, putting our own signature on things, and honing our personal style.

And, while it’s not always easy, it seems critical to go deep, and to reveal ourselves, if we want to connect. Being intimate requires uncovering our emotions, and that’s very difficult. It might seem that writing a blog is easy, because you can hide behind a personae, and that may be true.

But it can also be an extremely vulnerable place, and once your words are out there, you can feel incredibly exposed.

A few weekends ago, we were high in the Alps, near the top of the Matterhorn. A gorgeous sunny, clear, but cold day. The heat of the sun was so wonderful, I lay down on a wooden bench and closed my eyes.

And all around me, muffled by the snow, but weirdly amplified too, there were cushioned voices. Italian, German, French, English, all murmuring and blending into one thin curtain of sound. It was like some weird Tower of Babel inside of a snow bank.

And as I allowed the lilting sounds to wash over me, it felt like a moment transcendent of meaning. There was no understanding, no connection. And I thought about how so much of the time we live our lives like this. Gabbing and chattering mindlessly, on and on, without listening, without communicating anything at all. The meaning and the intent of our words is lost.

We’ve all been outsiders, foreigners in strange places where we didn’t share a common language. It’s lonely, and there can be uncomfortable moments and feelings of frustration. And we can feel isolated, so that opening up a channel can feel like a true lifeline. But to do this we have to step up boldly; we can’t be timid.

I was afraid of having my own blog because I was worried it might turn out to be awful. I’d read all these other cool ones and it felt intimidating, like I had to compete. The other writers all had such confident, savvy voices, their pages so sleek and self-aware. And I worried that people might think mine was shallow, or self-indulgent, or horribly trite.

And there’s been the constant worry that no one would read it at all. But there’s not been much I could do about any of those things, except to keep on clicking away on my laptop.

Because I realized it’s like joining a party – I can stay home, feel alone, and feel like no one really gets me. Or I can clear my throat, step into the conversation, stumble along, and see what words come out. And it might even be fun.

And I’ve recognized that the listening piece of this relationship has been an act of grace. What started out as a blog read by just a few family members, has grown to include people I don’t even know.

Throughout the year, I’ve wanted you to come along with me in my thoughts and stories, that they might resonate in some way, but there’s never any been any guarantee that anyone would follow.

So I’ve loved it when you could relate to my posts, and even when you’ve taken away something completely different than I intended. But I never anticipated the amount of encouragement, the praise, the support that I’ve received from so many people.

I can’t believe how closely you guys have  been paying attention.

And as for what you’ve shared with me, I’ve heard things totally unexpected – and from totally unexpected people. At times I could relate completely, other times I felt that we were in very different places. But I’ve always enjoyed the dialogue.

This has been such a unique writing exercise, different from any other. It’s been like a practice of daily meditation, surrendering to the process, trying not to invest in the outcome. But also with a mindfulness toward you; to write these posts like postcards to you.

And so today, as the river speaks, it drowns out the scuffing sound of my feet on the path, the exhalation of my breath. It covers my obsessive thoughts and sifts through my every worry.

The rushing water is a backdrop, but it is also a messenger.

With its clarity of purpose and its freshness, it takes me back in time. It stirs up memories of my mother, it brings back funny times I shared with my sister. It forces me to examine things in my marriage, and it churns up anecdotes from my childhood.

And it beckons me to tell my story, to open my heart, to pay heed to my inner voice. And over time, I have become fluent in the language of this river.

And in the end, this blog has simply been me reaching out, wanting to be heard by you. And in a way, it’s all I’ve ever truly wanted in my whole life.

To be heard, to be understood, for others to simply get me. Isn’t that how we are loved? It’s the work of a lifetime, I guess, and probably the reason that I write.

My faith says we all get there in the end. We hear what we need to hear, when we need to hear it. Like the river, the conversation sweeps all of us along with the current, one way or another.

And now I’m moving on. Like the rushing river, I can’t stagnate in one place. Our time here in Switzerland is up. So I must chart a new course, and move along to some other place.

And I’ll try to keep listening for the words and simply see where they take me, and I’ll continue to write my story as honestly as I can.

But I just want to say that I’ve loved the rush and flow of this conversation, and I owe it to you, my readers, my friends, and my awesome family. It’s been the journey of a lifetime, and I am forever grateful to each of you.

Thank you for reading, for sharing yourself so honestly, for encouraging me, and above all, for helping me to find my voice.

And so, not knowing what lies ahead in the New Year, I am simply grateful for these past nine months, as I look forward to rounding the next bend in this mysterious river. And I’m hoping that maybe – who knows – you’ll be waiting there too.

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5 thoughts on “River Speak

  1. Beth, Beth. How did you climb in my brain today, even if you wrote this days ago? I needed your words today. Someday, perhaps I’ll bring together the words to share with you, one tributary at a time. Bless you, kiddo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beth,

    Please don’t stop writing! You have an amazing gift and each and every one of your blogs have made me stop and think and reflect and be grateful that I’ve just spent the last 15 minutes reading your wonderful words, and the last 45+ years knowing you. Thank you so much!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth, I am truly grateful for your writings. Each is a gift, encouraging me to look deeper within myself while getting to know more about you. Today, to read that you were afraid of having your own blog—that thought hit home, to know that you could have stopped yourself from sharing, or that I might not have known about your blog…..Again, I am grateful, and if your journey with writing continues, please share your writings with me. You would be doing me the favor.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would love to share this last post with some of the student writers at our school or find a way to connect you with them in person. Maybe we could talk about that.
    I rely on art to express myself but you have shown me the power of words. Now wondering how long you will be staying in Switzerland and when you will be coming home?

    Liked by 1 person

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