I have seen people crossing the river; some have reached the far bank, some began to cross a while after I started, but everyone crosses the river. For many people the river is wide, and their journey across is a long one. A few people cross where the river is narrow, and reach the other side far too soon.
Every crossing is unique. You can never cross back the way you came, but you can turn and contemplate the route you took, your path reflected in the waves –more paint than water– which illustrate the choices you made and people you met along the way.
I have known individuals who have made the crossing on their own strength; kicking, splashing, finding a rhythm and navigating alone to the other side. Of these individuals, I have seen those who find the journey easy, and those who have struggled with great difficulty.
Most crossings that I have known –mine included– are aided.
To begin, I swam alone –we all begin the crossing alone– but I soon realised my interest in those who swam beside me. There was a time of discovering and testing the assistance of others; hands held, shoulders lifted, backs mounted, attempts at synchronicity. Ultimately, these experiences fed my knowledge, but left me swimming alone.
The First, my true first, I saw from a distance. We started our crossings only a short time apart, but at a great distance. Hers was a lifejacket, which fit comfortably, and for a time protected me from the cold of the river and eased my effort to stay afloat. Together we crossed deep water for a long spell. After time, however, the wet pervaded the jacket, weighing it down and carrying the chill. She left, taking the jacket with her. I had neglected it.
I grieved, and in my sadness I found the others again. We brought each other nothing to aid the crossing, save for the momentary relief of warmth.
The Second, who broke away from the others, was fleeting. She pointed me toward stepping-stones in the water. I climbed and took a few steps, but the deceptive rocks were slick and the river rushed furiously around them. Hers was not the way. I slipped and fell, diverting away from her and returning to my course.
The Third –eternal if– crossed with another. I knew them both well. When the current eased, the three of us swam side-by-side with others with whom we worked. When the two of them committed to each other, theirs was a lilo. It carried them both a short distance, but it was soft, unsteady and thin. She fell off and into me. He watched, then wordlessly cut the plastic and his vein. His blood filled the water in which she and I swam. We pushed away from each other as he washed up on the far side.
The Fourth gave me flippers, but took them away one night without warning. I thought at the time that they helped, that they would see me through to the other side, but once they were gone it was clear that I moved with the same effort and speed as I had done with them, with her.
The Fifth sailed by on a raft of her own making. It was beautiful and strong. She helped me out of the water and onto the firm wooden structure. For the first time I traversed the river without discomfort, without the exhaustion of my own effort, and without the cold. Our raft could glide over choppy waters without fear. She and I sailed with equality, with conversation, with happiness, with experience, with love.
We sail together still, on our raft; our sights set on the far side of the river. We’ll get there one day. We will battle rapids, storms, creatures, or each other along the way, but we’ll both complete the crossing on some distant-future day. Together.