I sat by the river on the autumnal equinox pondering life, the beauty of the river, the trees and the changing of the seasons. The equinox is one of only two days a year when night precisely equals day, marking the onset of spring and then the fall. So I also pondered the idea of equality.
I was recently reading a book. It said that our nation was founded on the twin notions of freedom and equality. The author pointed out that as Americans we’re good with the notion of freedom. Heck, we all know what it is to be free, and we all cherish our freedom. But with equality, the book stressed, we have a bit more of a problem. “Do we truly know what it is to be truly equal?” I pondered aloud.
“I don’t know. You people all look alike to me”
I’d recognize that voice anywhere. It was the voice of the river. It speaks to me often when I’m pondering the deeper meaning of stuff.
I elaborated that I was just sitting here on the day of the equinox and pondering equality. I inquired if the river was excited about this day of the equinox and the onset of fall.
“Oh that. That happens all the time.”
Well I suppose it depends on how you measure time.
“When you stay grounded in one place for a while, you realize that change is the only constant. Case in point: not so long ago, I was a 700 foot deep river canyon.”
You were? Um, and how long ago was that?
“About 13,000 years. Ya know before that last ice age.”
Well that was a bit before my time, I commented.
“But then I was filled in by debris from those retreating glaciers. You people were just coming across from someplace far north and east of here back then. So you may not remember. But to me, you’re the same people now that you were then. Haven’t really changed a bit.”
You mean you’ve been around all these years and haven’t noticed any differences among us? Black, white, brown? Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist? American, Mexican, African, Asian, European, Australian? Blonde, Brunette, Ginger?
“Makes no difference in my world.”
Well, we humans have advanced quite a bit, I explained to the river. Nowadays, we respect and honor our diversity. Of skin colors, races, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, hair color.
“And how is that working out for you people?”
Well actually we’ve still got a ways to go to be perfectly honest, I wryly observed.
“Well, that stuff makes no difference to me. Why should it to you?”
“Fact is, you do all look alike. With all those long lanky limbs and even more extremities on the ends of your extremities. Always gotta be going, doing. Using them for some crazy scheme or another.”
I can see how it might look that way to you but…
“You should be more like the trees. Wide stable trunk, deeply rooted in the soil. You humans just wander about all the time, constantly on the move, constantly running from place to place. Can’t you just learn to calm down and sit still?”
And do what?
“Sit still. Just bend back and forth in the breeze. Like the trees.”
Well, I mean c’mon. Sit still like trees? They never go anywhere. Never see anything.
“Take a look at them, they’re big, they’re beautiful, teaming with life. They’re at peace with who and what they are. And nobody knows the trouble they’ve seen.”
I heard that in a song once, I commented.
“…and most of ‘em live a lot longer than you do.”
“I remember when you first got here. Hellbent on destruction, you were. Killing buffalo like crazy, cutting down trees, chewing up the wetland prairie, damming me up. Acting like I’m here to be the wastebasket for your garbage and for your runoff. And you’re still about the same.”
I suppose on some level, we are the same, I sadly and somewhat guiltily observed. At that point, I think the river noted a little remorse in my countenance.
“Hey, don’t think twice, it’s alright.”
Now you’re starting to sound like Bob Dylan…
“I’ll be fine. I was here before you were. I’ll be here after you’re gone. The question really is more one for you rather than me.”
“Sure it is. Always has been. How do you want to interact with me while you’re here? How do you want to treat me? Treat me right, I’ll treat you right.”
I’ve heard that. Good point.
“It’s true for all of us here that make up your planet. You can try to use us, abuse us, destroy us all you want. But the only thing you’re really going to destroy is yourselves. We’ll still be here after you go. You people are the infants.”
I suppose so, I added.
“So as this equinox passes, start thinking about equality, about balance. Sure your freedom’s important. Sure you want the freedom to cut down the trees, to use the land and the river as your dumping ground, to plow up the land and destroy the soil. Freedom, freedom, freedom. Do what you please. That’s all you people are obsessed with. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine concept! But how about some balance now and then?”
“Ponder equality. Realize that you’re all riding around on this spaceship together. Our spaceship. Realize that when it comes right down to it, from the perspective of all of us here on this planet, you people are all the same. Treat each other that way.”
So I sat by the river pondering equality. The fact that all of us: black, white, brown, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, American, Mexican, African, Asian, European, Australian, blonde, brunette, ginger – we’re all riding this ship together and we are in fact all equal whether we acknowledge it or not. We should acknowledge it more often.
And I pondered the equinox, life, the trees, and the changing of the seasons.
And the beauty of the river.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, October 8, 2015 by Scott Hays