The River’s Revolutionary Ways

17 Jan

Though I am gone from it – having left in a torrent of meetings, encounters, and last-minute trips to coasts and borders – it still runs deeply through my body. When I sit awake, late in the cold night, my mind drifts back to the slow churning of the broad and muddy river and its creative energy.  I sit awake because I am considering how I left the river, how I seemed to forget the Mekong in my haste to project myself through the throes of social complexities. What began as my project to sink deeply into the ways of a river ended with me casting my boat aside and throwing myself down a torrent of unpredictable waters.  Where I thought I was seeking stability, I was actually seeking chaos.  But like a good parent, the river let me go.  It let me wander away or into its turbulence without protest, yet it had already instilled in me a deep sense of calm, a deep sense that no matter where I go and what I put myself through, the river still runs through my body.

It was very late in the game when I wound up on the Thai-Cambodian border. Time was running out and I had already left the Mekong to rekindle relationships with my host family in Thailand. But something called me back to Cambodia and the products of its chaotic history and shady governance. I remember when someone in Phnom Penh asked me for money so that he could eat. In the moments after I turned down the request, I gazed down the street.  Trash was everywhere and potholes slowed down a few SUV’s as they bounced through the neighborhood.  One of these cars, a black Lexus with tinted windows, stopped in the middle of the road for a few minutes, blocking all traffic so its passenger could engage in some roadside business.  When no one complained, I asked why.  My friend, Soriya, pointed at the license plates, “See? Government. You try to tell them, they beat you. Maybe you die later.” I looked back at the young man who asked me for money and a sense of hopelessness fell over me.

Somehow, though, I still believe freedom is attainable.  When I step back from the chaos and deprivation, from witnessing the powerful intimidate the powerless, and from my own forays into the fringes of this society, I feel the river again – the deep, magnificent flow of water that carves canyons with its mass, fertilizes valleys with its mud, and builds islands with its sediment. The creative power of the river arrives back in me. And then I realize how freedom from fear, from poverty, from sadness can be attained: creatively.

I left the river in my own chaos – something that I needed and, deep down, wanted. I watched men and women navigate the chaos that I had moved into.  And I watched some of them navigate it with ease, like the skilled paddler who finds her line before the descent.  They were the ones who had found creative ways to develop a skill against the odds. And in some cases, someone else had found a creative way to help them.  Creativity cannot come in a state of crisis, but it can come from the inner calm amid the crisis, and this is revolutionary.  As I journey forward through the chaos that I have now chosen as part of my life path (a path reflected in some of the events I describe here), I can thank the river for giving me the bold creativity to depart from its safe confines. I can thank it for how it runs through me, deep and alive.

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