The Dream of the River

Writing Group Assignment: river, bridge

Sometimes I have a dream about a fast moving river, thundering its way over rocks, charging powerfully before me. There is no bridge to cross. There is no way around it. The river is full of people. People in pain. People lost. People lonely, broken and afraid, tumbling along in chaos. I want to cross the river and be done with it, put it behind me and move on. Fly over it and make it only a tiny ribbon of water far below. But even in the dream I cannot fly and there is never a bridge. It breaks my heart over and over again.

But there is a tree. Sometimes, in the dream, I climb the tree and stretch way out over the water on the long, thick branches and reach down to grab someone by the hand or head or neck, rip them out of the churn. I toss them on the riverbank as though they weigh nothing. The first time it was hard and I wasn’t strong but the more I did it the stronger I got. Once, I looked back at the people I had pulled out. Some were diving, crawling back into the river; the river that sweeps them away. But some were not. Some were climbing the tree and reaching out to grab someone else and pull them out.


I had a friend years ago, a big round man, beautiful and golden haired, golden bearded, just like you might imagine Santa Clause would have looked as a young man. He was a pastor then and leading a whole group of us to work in a Salvadorian community, the name of which translated to mean Hill of Branches. He brought two suitcases full of clothes and shoes with him on the trip which seemed like an awful lot of clothes even for a big man. On the last night he came back to the house, face and beard soaking wet with tears. “I gave it all away,” he said, “everything I had, I gave it all away. Even the suitcases. I’m going home with only the clothes on my back!” He laughed full and round, booming and echoing all through the simple cinderblock church hall, his whole body weeping with joy and love. “God breaks our hearts over them,” he told me. “It never ends. The need never ends, no matter how many times I come back and try to help. But over and over, a thousand thousand times my heart pours out to them.”


The tree by the river in the dream, sometimes it talks to me. “When you pass through the waters,” she says, “I will be with you. And the rivers, they won’t overwhelm you.” The river never ends and I never cross it but sometimes, just as my heart breaks over the river for the thousand thousandth time, the tree speaks those words with my mouth.


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