OPINION: We cannot step into the same River twice
I was very young when I first heard that saying, and like the river, it has changed many times over the years.
In it’s simplest interpretation, it simply means that we can’t repeat an experience. Not really.
We may try; we return to some place that holds strong memories for us. We may bring particular people with us. We may even follow the same script.
But, ultimately, the experience is never be the same. The river has moved on.
When I was young, this frustrated and disappointed me. As though the universe had taken something from me.
There were even times when it felt like a challenge, times when I wanted to relive a moment, but the truth is that the harder we try to recreate a past experience, the less natural the current experience becomes.
It’s like being told to “act natural.” We can try to convince ourselves that we’ve stepped into the same river, but the philosophers were right. We are in a different river.
I eventually learned, that it’s not just the river that changes.
Not only the river moves on from that moment. The version of us from that moment no longer exists.
That idea also frustrated me. I spent many years trying to stay the same, convincing myself I could still do push ups like I used to.
Several failed workouts later, I’ve made peace with the natural course of aging. This 47-year-old dad can’t have the same experience that 22-year-old me had.
And, even as I make peace with the river agin, it changes again.
I recently travelled with a group of friends to raft the Arkansas River. For some, myself included, it was our second time rafting there, for others it was their first time stepping into this river.
It was a great trip, partly because I managed to stay in the boat, but mostly because this journey down the river was a familiar but entirely unique experience.
It was a unique meditation to literally step into that river again, a metaphor made real.
And, it brought me to a new interpretation of the river.
On this trip, I considered how we struggle to capture moments.
We take photos, record video, post and share. We’ve integrated our phones into all of our experiences, but there is no photo, video, or hashtag that can be the moment it attempts to capture.
We’ve seen the people phone recording their favorite concert.
We’ve seen the people phone recording their children performing onstage .
They record these important moments, watching the entire experience through their phones. We’re becoming bystanders, recording memories of events that we never truly experienced the first time.
We’re so quick to post photos of the river, that we never actually get in the river.
We can’t step into the same river twice, but we also can’t step into a frozen river.
So, there’s a value in not capturing a moment.
It’s not about trying to compare the river now to the past river, or to the future river.
It’s just about being in the river.
That, and staying in the boat helps.
Manuel Alvear is many things – among them a Texan, a father, and a longtime journalist.
If you want him, you can find him – on the opinion page of the Burleson Star.