Yes, yes, you can’t step into the same
I found the poem quoted above several weeks ago in an issue of the Writer's Almanac newsletter, and immediately had to save it for later. Of course, every time I read it, I end up with the song from Pocahontas in my head: what I love most about rivers is / you can't step in the same river twice...
The Queen Street Viaduct, located in the southeast corner of what I consider to be downtown, covers the street with a public art piece by Eldon Garnet, which includes the phrase "the river I step in is not the river I stand in." All of these harken back to the philosophy of change formulated by Heraclitus of Ephesus, in which the idea of a river is used as an illustration of constant change. We see it, too, in Theseus' Paradox, the question of whether a ship which, over time, has all of its planks replaced remains in any sense the same ship. The question has been asked about John Locke's sock, George Washington's axe, Jeannot's knife, and Ise Jingu's Naiku shrine: how much can we change before we are no longer ourselves? How much can we hold?
I had a lot of anxiety about growing up when I was young. I wept at every inescapable sign that I was changing, or that my life was. Culture didn't help; the idea that it was not only possible but likely to leave your best years behind you too early in the game was haunting. I was terrified.
Things are different now, though. Now, I look forward to the changes that come with age. My brain is healthy, my body is doing ok as long as I take care of it, and most importantly, my reactions to things are my decision. I can get away from things that are bad and embrace things that are good in ways I could never have done in my youth. I am different, too, of course; I've written about that already, about how my sense of self has shifted over time and how I assume they'll continue to do so. But I wouldn't go back for all the money in the world.
I tend to round up my age at the new year; I've been calling myself thirty since Christmas, even though I won't be officially until July. I've done this as long as I can remember, and my mother did it before me, so it's mostly just habit. G sometimes scolds me for it, thinking I'm wishing my years away, but it's not that as much as it is that I'm always excited about getting older. Every year finds me stronger and more myself; every year holds more things I've learned and made part of me. I have left nothing behind. I am everything I've ever been, but more. I am more and more me, and less and less anybody else. I belong to myself.
It's not that I don't think the future will have hardship; of course it will. It will hold life and death and illness alongside joy and learning and promise. But the point is that it will hold both, and it will be worth it. I couldn't be more excited.
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