still with the river

Of what avail is it if we can travel to the moon, If we cannot cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves. This is the most important of all journeys and without it, all the rest are useless.
— Thomas Merton

We arrived at the Magdalena River when the sun was nearly directly above us. As part of a tour of four, John and two new friends from Belgium, we were among many other tourists brought to the river as one of many stops in a seven-hour journey. 

San Agustín has had an immediate calming effect on me. The voice of my heart has been easier to hear since our arrival and as such, the normal angst I might feel sharing a spot in nature with fifty or so strangers didn’t bother me. As John wandered off looking for the marriage of light and form to make beautiful photos, I found a spot next to the river to sit. 

I noticed that everyone around me was taking snapshots more so than making photos. The young, twenty-something woman with long black hair, a sweet and sincere smile and bright highlighter yellow shoes, directed her boyfriend in taking her photo with the river. When he was curious to explore and wandered off, she took a number of selfies as well. 

A father on the tour, held his son, who I imagine was about nine, in the tight embracing circle of his two arms. I recognized his love for his son and his fear of losing him to the Magdalena.

A couple posed together and utilized a selfie stick to capture a variety of river shots and a cross, cemented in rock, which read the name and details of the birth and death of a twenty-nine year old who fell in the river. 

Below me was the glow of the sun shining on and through the rushing river water. This is the spot of the Magdalena that is the narrowest point of the river, as well as the deepest. I was struck by the light golden color of the water which reminded me of long curly hair and by how the constant force of the river, through such a small cavernous place, smoothed the obsidian-looking rock that enclosed it. 

Above me, on the cliff, stood a three-foot tall white stone statue of Mary Magdalene, for whom the river was named. 

I watched the river intently and rather quickly the sounds of people nearby faded almost completely. I heard the wrestling of the wind in the trees, the caldron-like bubbling of the river and the tweet of birds flying overhead. 

I was mesmerized. Entranced. 

I felt invited to recognize the place without my tourist filter—even without the filter of a local who might only see the river for fish or transport. A familiar whisper came to me and invited me to pick one unremarkable thing to give my attention to. Something no one else would notice. 

I scanned the other side of the river to find beautiful things and moved on until I noticed a small bunch of browning leaves on the end of a gangly tree branch. I didn’t think much of anything and simply noticed the leaves. Their color and shape. The direction their tips were bent. What appeared to be cob webs tangling them together. I sat in that moment of noticing for a while until the whisper reminded me “all life enlivens when noticed.” 

Then my attention moved to the light dancing on and in the river. I gently switched between watching the glow on the river and watching the glow mix with the river. When watching the light on the river, I could see the sunlight's stability as the swirling and whirling of the river bounced through it. And while watching the light in the river, the river appeared to mix with the light—impossibly so. Its influence enlightened the tips of the tiny cresting waves, highlighting the already gold color with radiance. 

Then, it was time to go. Time to get back into tourist mode.

The Magdalena is in me now. A place to recall, to be reminded to repeat again and again even in the middle of a traffic jam.

My heart feels soft, peaceful. I am thankful.