thinking about a river

30 May 2009

Today in my class we were talking about meaning – finding it, recognizing it, and putting it in our writing. I talked a lot of how we can find certain symbols and images that speak to our personal consciousness. I’m certainly not lacking for examples. But one is coming up like gangbusters tonight: Watching the first game of the hockey finals in Detroit (at which my daughter is cheering and my sister working), I keep seeing ‘mood’ shots of the Detroit skyline as it sits on the Detroit River. That river is part of me. And part of my family. My father worked on that river most of his adult life. He has a much more intimate relationship with it than I do. But I grew up with those waters framing the west side of my town. And the north side of the city we lived in later. I crossed that river every day to go to work for three years. I walked by that river nightly, many, many a night. I’m reminded of this old journal entry from 2003, and one of those walks:

18 July 2003

Tonight I’m walking down by the river, enjoying the sight of it in its blackness, dappled with the city lights from either side. Romance is all around me, and I pass a dozen different stories, conversations coming in and out of earshot – I feel like I’m a walking movie camera, catching only the bits of action that are ten feet within my realm. Reminds me of the movie “Slackers”.

I get downtown as far as the blues festival, and just as I am going to turn and walk back home, I see a freighter coming up the river, and I stop and watch it as it approaches, gliding on the water without sound. I’m struck by all the action going on in the two cities on either side of the river, and this vessel sliding silently between. I think about my dad, about how life on these waters formed his whole perspective, his existence. My dad. I know him so well; and his job factored so large in our own lives, yet this part of him, sliding silently on the black waters, I’ll never really share. I’m standing on the shore watching, with the busy festival behind me, the romances going on all around me, and thinking about the crew on that silent microcosm gliding by in the water. Thinking about my dad on a tug on a lake when I was 10 and at home in my bedroom. And I think about how life on the water formed my dad, and how, consequently, that formed me, even as I sat in my room reading my books and listening to my little transistor radio, a million miles away. I start to walk with the freighter, thinking I can keep pace with it. It pulls on ahead of me, so I start to jog to keep up. On it sails past the two cities, the blues festival, the couples strolling on the path. And me.

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