My life has been changed by many people. Some of them know how much they’ve done, while I doubt others realize the extent of an impact they’ve had on me, despite how much I’ve tried to tell them. Call it humility, call it a blindness to the power and beauty within them, call it chicken salad. I met one such person at the age of seventeen in my dorm during my freshman year of college. Though we keep only in sporadic contact now, I can truly say that I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for the intersection of our paths.
One of her favorite books is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, and it resonated so deeply with her that it became the inspiration for a tattoo she put on the back of one of her wrists. For years I’ve been meaning to read it, to understand a bit more of what makes her tick. A few months ago, I finally got around to it. To be honest, I was unimpressed when I finished it. It’s a short novel, very Coelho-eqsue, and borders on the pedantic at times.
And then I let it sit for a month or two, permeate my consciousness and seep into my thoughts. Just tonight I picked it back up again and spent some time flipping through it. And like a good wine or a strong cheese, it became richer over time. It’s about so many things – the difference between searching and finding, the necessity of finding one’s own path through life, presence versus action, the strength of thought, the power of being. Undoubtedly it speaks to each individual in a different way, and to the same individual in various ways over the course of time. Possibly because of my connection to water, possibly because of her tattoo, I connected most with the lessons learned by the side of the river.
Siddhartha, the title character, is profoundly changed by the presence of the river and what the river teaches him. From it, Siddhartha learns to listen and “pay close attention with a quiet heart.” To foster this silent strength, this internal presence, is not easy – for him or for any of us. Yet as he spends more and more time by the river, focused on the present, he learns one of life’s greatest virtues: how to listen. To listen to the teachings of the river. To listen to the stories of others as he ferries them across the way. To listen to his own heart. And through this, he learns one critical piece.
The river is everywhere.
It is in the village, in the mountains. The forests, flowing towards the ocean. It is outside of him, but more importantly, it becomes part of him. It is this energy, this flow that connects him to loved ones and strangers alike. To his own world of inner thoughts and emotions. The river is everywhere; he only needs to be made aware of this.
Heraclitus says, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Every moment we return to the river, wherever we may find it, it has changed. It has had difference experiences without us and affected people we may never meet, individuals that we may never know exist. And on the opposite side, each time the river meets us, we are changed. Each day we have 24 new hours to enjoy, and each moment of those 24 hours has such potential. We bring all that with us when we return to the river, when we return to our relationships, even when we return to ourselves.
No man ever encounters the same river, but yet that river is everywhere and in everything. Which leads to a challenge – to live one’s life in a way that changes us at each moment, even in the most minute of ways. To treasure the time we have and make the most of it. Carpe diem can sound so trite and is often overused, but to truly understand it and live in a way where we seize the day and live in every, single moment? That’s a call to action. Whether we choose to accept the call is up to us.