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  • Writer's picturematilde tomat

crossing the river

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

There are memories of me sitting in a car, my (now ex) husband driving north along one of our rivers. Water so transparent you could have bet it wasn’t there. Cold and still inviting. Playing, jumping, dancing among the stones, shifting pebbles and caressing boulders as old as the sun. The moss was deep emerald green and I wished I was left there.

I remember asking to stop and walk. I meant walk in the water, climbing the overwhelming mountains not just by following the rivers or well-known paths, but by being in the river. I wanted the freedom of exploration, the thrill of adventure. I wanted the risk of slipping and falling. I wanted to feel at one with Nature up to the point of diluting into it and disappearing. Lifting my face towards the sun, I could not take the whole mountain in, so large and rooted. And still, totally inexperienced, I felt this call. Pack and go, follow the river; go up, climb, and follow the river.

Some years later we were in Slovenia visiting the Franja Partisan [and clandestine] Hospital hidden deep in a gorge and lost among the mountain tops. In order to reach it, the wounded troops needed to climb waterfalls and walk knee-deep in the torrent in order to dispel their scent and blood and not be followed by enemies’ dogs and other animals. There is a well-managed safe path now that takes you to the old cabins. Even then, I could not walk in the water. I could not climb the river.

In the comfort of my living room, in this house along the canal, I have been reminded of all the safe paths I took in life. Those easy-way-outs.

When things were not going my way and I was feeling displeased by what life threw at me, I was very quick in chucking away whatever philosophy, thinking, spiritual practice allegiance I was bound to, for something new. That something that would magically turn things around. That guru / speaker / book / YouTube channel that would finally sort all of my problems. That incense, diet, Yoga routine, a rearranged series of beads that would heal me. Then, after some uneventful testing, I would revert back to the same old Christianity feeling guilty, rejected, too different to fit in. Too many times, like Jonah, I run away. God was opening doors that I have been way too scared to go through. Scared for my life, scared to leave people behind, scared of being judged, scared of being misunderstood, scared of making a mistake (another one!). Scared of living.

Then, the old yearning would appear and the same visions of travelling, writing, moving, going, experiencing would show up. Of feet in the river. Another door would open, and I would say no. It was more of a series of no no no no no. And my feet backing up. Not ready + too scared + what if…

Like Jonah, I was hiding while reading more books, lighting up more incense, pledging different allegiances, catching a boat instead of climbing into the water. Building bridges and new safe paths. To higher grounds but further and further away from where I felt I should have been. To where I felt I was being called. Because I was wrestling. I could not understand why I should have had all these dreams and visions for my future while being caught up in so much fear. Grappling fear. How could I reconcile this voice within me that wanted me to go, to move, explore and write while being stuck in a place, with my feet deep into cement instead of water. Why all this testing, rejection, isolation if I should have been somewhere else!

I thought that if I wanted to write I could still write at Starbucks. If I wanted to travel I could still drive to Lytham. Do you want some adventure? Well, there are some areas of Blackburn I could point you to…


These are just justifications and compromises. Because when I have been offered to move to New York I froze and said no. When I have been offered for my first book to be published, I said no. When I have been unconditionally offered a place at a renowned university I sat in the car and repeated no no no no no too much I cannot handle all this.

In the end, five years later, I was offered another place, into another university and I felt I was in charge and I said yes. And it is true: if I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready. But this also meant that I wasn’t trusting. I wasn’t trusting that during all these years, since 1987, all those doors have been opened for a reason and that Whoever repeatedly opened those doors would have helped out once I got through. I did not trust. I wanted to be in charge and in control of everything.

I have had some other experiences along the way, I learned a lot, I changed a lot but I did it in my own way which meant I took a massive detour, a sort of waste-of-time, many nights wondering what-if and a lot of moaning, begrudging and bitterness towards myself for being such a coward and so confused, and all the others I blamed for keeping me stuck and not allowing to walk through: family, past, situations, partners, friends, you name it it’s there and if you knew me, I might have even blamed you.

What happens in my head is a convoluted mixture of: I am not sure I have read this thing right, I don't understand what it means, I am confused, Am I tested to go, or to reject the offer? what if it's all in my head, what if I make a mistake, what if it's not for me, what if it's too big, what if I am not good enough, what if my mother was right when she was saying "don't be a megalomaniac like your dad...".

What if, instead, my dad was not a megalomaniac at all?! What if he had dreams and was so scared he made his life miserable?!

And this is the most important lesson I learned this week while watching the river: if you need to cross a river, you might need to put your feet in. You are not requested to build a bridge or a path around it. Don’t get me wrong, you are learning a lot about civil engineering, cooperation, supply of materials, etc. but your feet are still dry. In order to cross a river, and find your own balance stone after stone, you also need to leave stuff behind on the shore. You cannot take everything with you. And especially not everybody.

You have to be prepared to say goodbye.

We build bridges because we can ask our friends to help us hoping that they would cross with us once the bridge is finished. We prolonge the agony of longing by trying to find comfort in this liminal space in between. We marry, we argue, we stick with a job. We tell stories of how much we have learned about what wood is best, or where to find the cheapest tool. But that wasn’t our mission. Our mission was to say goodbye and cross.

We cannot, ever, bring with us someone whose mission is to stay. And you cannot say Yes to someone who is asking you to stay if your mission is to go. Our mission was to leave. Our mission visited us over and over again in our dreams when we wondered how are the rivers in Patagonia coz we really would like to see them…

That is another facet of freedom. That freedom that comes with accepting you have a mission - whatever that mission is going to be or is for you - and you are going to follow through no matter what. That freedom that comes with the moral requirements of being determined and showing integrity.

To say yes will require some serious courage.

(c) 2022 mtomat

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