“While the river of life glides along smoothly, it remains the same river; only the landscape on either bank seems to change.”
Max Muller b. Dec 6, 1823 and d. Oct 28, 1900
Any one of us who’s ever taken the helm of their own life’s journey knows full well the “river of life” does not always glide along smoothly. True, the landscape on either bank does change, at times with alarming speed. However, said “river” can also be a rather bumpy ride. Life is nothing if not an adventure, an exploration of ourselves as we navigate the simple and complex landscapes both internal and external. It’s a journey that alternates between the pristine and the messy, the familiar and the strange.
One might also say that humanity is a river, the ebb and flow of which is influenced by the tide of history and the gravity of politics. We are the flood of many, the trickle of the few. We seek out the path of least resistance, yet carve our way through tremendous obstacles to arrive at unseen wonders.
We quest with urgency, we wander at our leisure. At times we are lost, utterly, our bearings askew in the turbulence that is life, only to find ourselves exactly where we needed to be. We are the river, both its crushing power and its gentle caress.
I was part of the river, at the time among the freshest current of people to arrive at the feet of antiquity. I was in old Firenze, a simple traveler among many, and I’d come to see the storied bridge that overlay the Arno.
From its source at Mount Falterona in the Apennines, across barely 150 miles of Tuscan landscape, il fiume Arno, the river, has found its way to the Tyrrhenian Sea for millennia. A temperamental beast, it has been sometimes a quiet and gentle thing, almost running virtually dry, to at other times a raging torrent in a matter of days. Cutting its way through Firenze, it is traversed by the Old Bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, first built by the Romans in 996 A.D. The bridge was destroyed by the flooding river in 1117 and again in 1333. Rebuilt in 1345, it stood for over 600 years, allowing the passage of il fiume below and the river of humanity that crossed over it. In the flood of 1966, however, it suffered massive damage once again.
This is the story of us all. No matter the journey, no matter the duration. We navigate a tide of time and circumstance, and although the landscape on either side appears to change, it is we who are truly altered along the voyage that is life. We stand, we fall, we laugh, we cry. Pain, pleasure, solitude and fellowship. These things shape us; they give us wings that we may fly, and anchor us when we might be swept away. We are the river, we are the bridge.