Some things seem to come around in cycles… It’s funny that as someone who has lived overseas for a such a long time, that I should keep experiencing the same river again and again.
As a child, it was the Ohio river… when I was a child my best friend and I used to tow soda pop bottles about two miles in our wagon to the nearest little town where we could cash in the bottles for their deposit and gorge ourselves on candy while gazing at the mighty Ohio flowing by.
In 2002, I landed on the Mekong river in Vientiane, Laos, during the height of the flood season. Every day the residents of Vientiane would congregate by the Mekong to see how close it was to flooding on that particular day. Today seemingly only a few centimeters away, tomorrow seeming to recede a bit. The Mekong became a kind of spiritual body to me, not merely an inanimate object, but actually a living thing, with a spirit, like a god. Those were hard times, and I confided in the river about the troubles in my life.
Just a few months later, in Phnom Penh, I began a long period near the banks of the Bassac, a massive tributary just a short distance from the Mekong. The Bassac is odd in that it actually flows in two directions depending on the time of the year. For most of the year, the Bassac flows into the Mekong (left to right from the vantage point of the Phnom Penh riverside). But when the rain fills the Mekong to such massive levels, the water from the Mekong flows into the Bassac, changing its direction (from right to left), where the water flows all the way up into the Tonle Sap lake.
Somehow imagining the riverside in Phnom Penh to be analagous to the riverside in places like Varanasi (Benares) in India, I took to meditating on the river bank in Phnom Penh. People may surely have thought I was a bit crazy, as the riverside in Phnom Penh is extremely dirty. Yet even a few Cambodian people joined me while I was doing meditation.
A long time passed there in Phnom Penh- so many conversations were had at the riverside- so many friends met.
Now even more years later, I sit perched atop a chair, guitar in hand, microphone pointed to my mouth, with the Mekong before me. The river flows by illuminated by the lights of the town, the great bridge lit up to my right. From time to time, I stop concentrating on the melody I am singing for the audience enjoying their drinks on the patio, and the spirit of the Mekong penetrates me in a brief instant before I forget which chord I should be playing. A perfect place for a song.
Last night it struck me how odd that I should be here again, this time looking over the river while performing. Life is a series of cycles and repetitions, but these cycles are something that someone who travels and moves around often loses- since there is no permanence, and the locations are always changing and shifting.
At least I have the Mekong to remember- to remind me of years gone by, flowing by… “jaded by the years”…