A few years ago, a good friend of mine suddenly died. At her memorial service we wept, prayed, listened to music, heard about her from friends and relatives, and sang. The song we sang was "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." The words to the song were printed on the program under the heading, "Our Song."
As we sang, the words took on an entirely different meaning for me – a meaning far greater than the round usually sung by small children. Here was a group of adults singing it in cooperative harmony to memorialize a beloved woman. What was so special about "their song?"
Today, the words of this childhood round have significantly greater meaning than they did then.
"Row, row, row." Persist in the effort to move forward in your life. Put your energy and effort into growing, learning and moving ahead toward creating the quality of life you really desire. If you stop in that effort, you get nowhere and stagnate. Certainly my friend was always focused on learning and growing in her life. She indeed, was continually rowing forward.
"Your boat." It is, after all, your boat – your being. Being who you really are not only allows you to move ahead, it is also the vehicle which keeps you afloat and safe in a chaotic world. When we jump out of our own boat, stop being our true selves, we often land in shark-infested waters and are drowned or eaten – or both. Don’t try to change anyone else. Trust being who you are. Enjoy being you. Value your uniqueness. After all, you have been in your boat all your life. And there never was and never will be another craft quite like it. My friend loved being who she was.
"Gently." It is so important to be gentle in life. We live in a violent culture. Being gentle with yourself, others and your environment helps dampen the violence, and heal the wounded. We so often cling to, and struggle with, forces beyond our control. We become frustrated, angry or resentful, and destructively take out these emotions on ourselves, on those around us, or on our home – the earth. I learned how to be gentle partly by knowing my friend. She was always gentle, especially with her grandchildren.
"Down the stream." Not up the stream. Not across the stream. But down the stream. How often do we fight the flow of life? We’re usually so busy swimming up stream, we exhaust ourselves. Take the time to allow the current of life to move you gently down stream. Let go of the struggle once in a while. Allow your life to move with life’s currents, as opposed to always wanting to change the course of the river.
It was not easy for my friend to accept her imperfections, her problems or her losses. But she moved more than most with the flow of life. Several years prior to her death, she confronted widowhood with an acceptance and equanimity rarely seen. She learned to "flow" with it. And as she did, she more easily adjusted to being single once again.
"Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily." Oh, the joy of being alive! We so often take life too seriously – or we keep reminding ourselves of all its negative aspects. And when we do, we become bitter. We create a lot of misery. Despite her human frailties, despite her share of pain and suffering, my friend found joy in being alive. She went through life merrily. She chose to focus on the positive aspects of her life rather than the negative. And in doing so, she found laughter and merriment joy and delight.
"Life is but a dream." Perhaps the Buddhists are correct. What we usually call "life" is an illusion. Perhaps we are actually expressions of consciousness – spiritual beings having a physical experience rather than the other way around. Perhaps the perceived physicality and permanence of life is indeed, nothing more than a dream. Perhaps we create our own dream/life. Perhaps when we become "enlightened" or die, we cease superimposing upon life only what we think, and for the first time, experience what life is really like. I know my friend believed that after her death she would be really alive – perhaps for the first time. May it be so!
So my dear friend, even as your life enriched mine, so too has your song, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Thank you for both. I’ll always remember with love.