Saturday, February 22, 2020

China: Peace Like a River in Coronavirus times...

 "Be still like a mountain, and flow like a river." --Lao Tzu Tung

"I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars."  
                                                             --Edward Abbey

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of these drops are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
                         --Norman MacLean in A River Runs Through It

We have walked more than a hundred miles in the last few weeks on the Haihe shores.
Since we are living here in China during "coronavirus times," we must occasionally leave our homes to have peace near our river--specifically the Haihe River in Tianjin, China. Parks are closed, and a lake that we fondly call our own is often not permissible to walk around. However,  there are a few people like us in this town of 17 million that gather on this beautiful, historical Haihe River. I have found it is where we can revive our strength and breathe in the beauty to go back and face the virus that surrounds us. 

I have never seen a place where people love to fish more than in Tianjin, China. Often you will see a lone person with their fishing pole, other times it will be a larger, louder gathering. Fishing takes people's minds off the coronavirus for a few happy moments. They are at peace with their river.
There are not many of us who come out of our houses (In Tianjin, it is allowed to leave your homes, but everything is closed and there are no gatherings in homes), but in the last month, we have watched this river give peace in a time of turbulence, offer strength in a time of uncertainty. The Haihe is called "The mother river of Tianjin" leading to the sea--gathering five rivers to its side to become one with it. It has become a new home to me--a place where my "river thoughts" trickle out. 

I have learned rivers are endless, constant givers. When thick ice threatens to block natural ebbs and flows, undercurrents incrementally force the obstructions away. Sometimes we have seen boats come out to crunch and break up the ice so the river can move forward again, rushing onward. Often someone needs to be the one to be in the boat crunching the ice so the water can flow again. Rivers have seasons--even within a day--and each moment can show different lights, ripples, and occasionally a near stillness. I am continually awed by rivers.

Some city workers breaking up the ice of the Haihe River. Within a few moments, the slated ice is broken up into shards and blocks.

Just a few hundred yards from this scene the boats are coming to break the great ice slabs in a puzzle of pieces--allowing the river to flow again.

During this "coronavirus time," I have walked over a  hundred miles along the Haihe River shores--back and forth--taking in the beauty and the lessons "the mother river" offers. We have watched clusters of fishermen, a few skaters, boaters, and even swimmers try its waters. Birds congregate here for their reunions. Families and loved ones hold hands as they watch their river flow, freeze, thaw, and then flow again. Sometimes the waters are swift, other times still. The Haihe River has become our sanctuary where we can forget the worries of this country for some moments. 

The Haihe reminds me to remember that life is meant to be like a rushing river. We are not meant to stay still for too long. The Haihe froze over for about two months, and you could see ice fishermen with their potched holes all over the river. Yet, eventually, the river beckons to break open again--to move from its source to its destination. Just like an unresolved grudge or quarrel left dangling, our own hearts yearn to burst forward and free--carrying all the dross to the sea. Rivers continually move, not allowing the snags to impede their flow. And they don't turn around again; they don't have time. There is too much water to carry to the sea to be concerned with turning backward. 

Being in this cocoon of time with the coronavirus has taught me lessons on how I want to live--to be like a river, being willing to twist and turn with the bend. A river seeks to move, unafraid of the tides or swings--the next chapter. And a river will not only bring you along with its momentum but it will move everyone and everything forward too. You all move onward together--leaving no one behind. Rivers make me realize I don't want to get stuck in any swirling eddies, but to get on the journey to move forward to the sea. 

I have loved winding rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, Hudson, and Snake--far away from China. But now I love the Haihe. More than ever, rivers were meant to keep rollin' along...


The view from our fifth-floor apartment looking down to the frosted shoreline.

A few days later, with all the obstructions cleared away--providing an outlet to "our lake" beyond.



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