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ColumnistsBy The Way with Bill ChapmanYou cannot step into the same river twice

You cannot step into the same river twice

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Once again I find myself echoing the profound sentiments of that ancient (500 BC) Hellenistic philosopher, Heraclitus, known in this instance for his doctrine of change; namely, “Everything flows, nothing stands still” or more pointedly “Nothing endures but change”.

These cryptic phrases may however often resound more of skillful rhetoric than learned wisdom – tricky fragments such as “The road up and the road down is one and the same” (the so-called unity of opposites), a witticism which at first blush is highly appealing though upon analysis may yield less depth than its simplicity may initially inspire.  Consider for example the opposition of two very similar aphorisms: “A man’s character is his fate” – not exactly an uplifting observation; and, “A man’s character is his guardian divinity” – more of that resplendent though possibly inexplicable stuff.  Such riddles run the risk of being more cute than blunt, and are as a result often difficult to understand.

Getting back to our river saying, I want to emphasize that it does not for me – as I believe it did for Heraclitus – establish that the world is in a state of permanent flux (a theory which at the time caused considerable disturbance for the Greeks who beforehand conveniently viewed the elements of the universe as constant and unchangeable); rather it merely reminds me that I cannot relive my past.  I do not see the philosophical point as a paradox, instead as a guide and useful reminder.

Recently I visited Sardegna (Sardinia), an island owned by Italy and located in the Mediterranean.  Almost fifty years ago I had traveled there for a brief three hours.  My parents, sister and I were on the mainland in Florence at the time and we by chance encountered a crony of my father’s who had an airplane.  The friend suggested that we fly to Cagliari (the capital of Sardegna) for lunch which we did.  I remember to this day admiring the transition of the coastal waters from blue to green to aquamarine.  The aerial view (afterwards complemented by the glistening white-washed stucco buildings clustered about the narrow cobblestoned streets) was so splendid that it was forever marked upon the surface of my memory.  As it turns out, I would have done well to left it there.  However, over the subsequent years I succeeded in convincing myself (without any deliberation towards deceit) that I would fulfill a cherished ambition to return to that place in the river of my life.

As it was, the succeeding visit to Sardegna was to the north coast (Porto Rafael) where the topography (exceedingly mountainous) was considerably different from what I vaguely recalled on the south shore.  That aside, the entire experience (though thoroughly pleasant) was so utterly different from the one I recalled some fifty years ago that I may as well have been on a different planet.  Obviously this is a small obstruction in the overall scheme of things; yet what it did was to drain the vital ether from the fragile recollection I had of the place.  I was clearly at risk of losing something.

I have since happily recovered from this abrupt elbow to my spiritual being, quaint memory perfectly in tact.  But the experience has nonetheless fortified my now pronounced inclination to cherish my past without having to relive it.  Likewise the event has encouraged me in the enjoyment of the changing features of my current devotions.  I guess Heraclitus of Ephesus was right!





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