River of Dreams

The song “River of Dreams” by the equally dreamy singer Billy Joel speaks about the human search for “something taken out of my soul, something somebody stole.” This search takes many trails, and even occasionally a stream.

One week ago, under a clouded brazilian sky, 16 North Americans decided totake a long walk through the jungle to a secluded beach on the coast of the island of Floripa. I was lucky to be a part of that group and even more lucky that I was around when Eddie Katz (another stellar fellow) suggested that we take a small detour up a rocky, overgrown river. Not everybody wanted to go, in fact Eddie and I were the only two who went, but in a way that made the experience more profound. Not because of the lack of other fellows, but because of the space that opened up for reflection in the absence of needing to talk. This experience was an excellent teacher for what is to come in our Global Citizen Year.

Eddie and I started out strong. We were so excited to be taking this alternate and exciting path from the rest of the group and we didn’t stop to appreciate the simple beauty of our natural surroundings. Then we came to a difficult stretch where we were unsure of how to procede. There was a wall of rocks facing us that was covered in moss with small rivulets tracing down which made finding a hand-hold difficult. The only way forward that I could see was to leap up to an overhanging ledge and push myself over. I leaped, and I made it. (My notebook didn’t, but that’s a different story.) That moment of suspension started me thinking about what Abby Falik had said during fall training. For now I’m interpreting it this way: to go anywhere interesting, it is almost always necessary to undergo some form of risk. After accepting this, it is left to us only to decide how much risk we are willing to take and if the destination is worth said risk.

After this we started to slow down and take notice what was around us, both because of want and because of necessity. Our shoes were starting to get wet. We saw pools of clear water with giant tad-poles at the bottom, we saw (and later felt) trees with thorns growing out of their trunks. There were trees overhung with moss that dragged in the flowing water, and all the while the forest sounds surrounded us. It was hard to believe that a place like this was real and not just stuck between the covers of National Geographic. We continued up the river.

Eventually, we realized that the sun was setting on our time in the river. Though we wanted to continue, we had to return to the path and continue our walk to the beach. Just before we turned around, I remebered that I had brought my camera specifically for something like this. I snapped a quick vídeo of where we were and what I was feeling at that moment, but I still wish I had remembered what I had in my backpack.

On our way down, we revisited some of the things we had seen before, however we often decided to take alternate routes to the ones we had chosen previously. Eddie even decided to take a small treck through the forest where he ecountered a few of those spikey trees. But I noticed that I began to get sloppy. Again, I didn’t appreciate where I was, but not because I was rushing, but because it felt like I had seen it all before. I hadn’t. Upon slipping and bashing my shin (again), I noticed how some footprints left in the sand of the river had been altered slightly by the current. They were just impressions of what had once been an exact shape and this got me thinking. What I do here will be influenced by the flow of human experience. It will change the current, but not in ways that I can predict or even imagine.

I will also be shaped by the current here. I would like to think however, that the current has the opposite effect on me; smoothing away some of my undefined areas, leaving more of my real self exposed. But again, I cannot predict how this will happen and I am not able to influence this current. So in the words of an intelligent person somewhere I will “sit with ambiguity.” I will digest it and I will not freak out. I will allow the current to take me, but I will also remember that I have arms to paddle, and legs to kick in the directions that I choose. I seriously doubt that I will land where I expected on the opposite shore, but I am learning to live with the eternal saying “the only thing to expect is to be surprised.”

In the end, Eddie and I returned to the trail. We were a little bruised, wetter than we had been, but happy just the same. I cannot speak for Eddie, but I feel as though that small detour took me even further along my path because “we all end in the ocean, we all start in the streams, we’re all carried along, by the river of dreams.”