When the River Flows Backwards

Don’t feel sorry for us. We’re ok. And we’re going to be ok. But the last two years of our lives together have aged us and strained us and bent us into contortions befitting the ancient tradition of Kama Sutra. But unlike that—and we’ve all found a copy under our brother’s bed, haven’t we—it hasn’t been pleasurable or romantic or unifying or titilating.
I’m almost tired of talking about it. Or thinking about it. And if it weren’t for the occasional—probably more than occasional—tremors and aftershocks that follow such traumatic quaking of the heart’s firmament, I’d have taken the advice of many aquaintences and just “suck it up” or “get on with it” or “no pain no gain” and whatnot.

Having lived my life next to the Mississippi River, I’ve heard tales and stories of the 1812 earthquake that hit the New Madrid fault line the through Southern Missouri which caused the Mississippi River, at one point, to flow backwards.

It’s an improbable tale.

Come with me for a moment to the deck of a flat boat where a trapper is conveying his cargo of furs down the river towards Cape Girardeau. In an instant, the water begins to ripple and your eyes go to the shore where the large cottonwoods begin shimmering and the ones nearer the bank heave into the river with cracking roots and spectacular splashes. You move your rudder to take your creaking craft away from the shoreline. As you you make it further from the bank and nearer to the channel you stand and observe the landscape around you, looking for familiar landmarks. They aren’t there. You stand up to gain a better perspective and fear grabs your ankles like tentacles, fastening them to the rickety deck of this boat. The shore ceases its slow parade upstream as you cease being carried down with the current. There is no movement at all. And in a moment, the muddy water seems to groan as it takes a beleaguered breath. It’s chest heaves upward and you perceive a small wall of water like an ocean wave coming towards you from downriver. Your heart fails as you hit the deck and begin to grasp for whatever hold your fingers can find, pressing your pale face into the waterlogged wood of the rough deck. A water choked scream for rescue gushes from the bottom of your being.

Have you been caught in a vortex? Is this some legendary and wrathful whirlpool? Has leviathan finally come, wielding the judgement of its Creator?

The surge of water picks up your boat and pushes it, along with debris, junk, and other boats unfortunate enough to be here at this place at this time. The water is violent as it spins and tumbles you, half drowning you in its turbulence.

The maladventure was short-lived. In a few more moments, the wave subsides altogether, the water—although churned into a thick soup of river muck—resumes its long slow march towards the gulf, just like is has for thousands of years and just like it will for many more.

And so the story of the earthquake is not a long one. It is actually quite uncompelling in its shortness. In fact many doubt that anything spectacular happened and stare at you dumbly as you guardedly tell them your story. Maybe you did make it up? Maybe you are having some psychosis? Did you simply overreact to some wind whipped waves?

I don’t have proof, except for the aftershocks. Again, no one else can feel them. And even I think they may just be phantoms and ghosts of my imagination. But if that were true then why when I look at the water do I feel the pangs of suspicion and betrayal? Why when I see odd ripples crisscrossing a smooth sunset lit pond, do I feel the same anxiety and panic that carried me away that day.

There’s death in my soul and I don’t know how to cast it out.

But what we need in times like this is someone to say words of comfort.

“You did not die. You are still together. This quaking frame of a man is the same man who stood before. Two feet under two legs. You’re going to be fine.”

“But how and why?” The questions crash into my heart.

But what we need in times like this is someone to say words of reality.

“The tectonic plates moved. As one fault line sunk under the other, it created a depression in the river bed that, now being the lowest point in that portion of the river, disrupted the usual flow of the river as it temporarily reversed course to fill in the new void.”

That’s it, really.

Reality sounds cold and undramatic. Because it is.

So presently the task of a survivor becomes made aware to him.
-Stand up.
-Learn to trust the water again.
-Map the new landscape.
-Mark the channel.

But do take your time. There is no rush. Everyone’s heart beats at a different speed and rhythm. Everyone’s legs stop shaking sooner or later, if they stop shaking at all. But even shaky legs are sufficient to hold a person up.

And if you feel like you’ve drowned, washed up on the shore, laying limply in unpeaceful rest, there are but two consolations. Firstly, and most importantly—although you may dispute this—please know and trust that you are not alone. Secondly, if your heart has stopped beating, please know the resuscitation process is often just as violent as the quake that shook you to this place. But someone will come. Someone who cares and loves and sees and knows. How will they know? Do you still think you are the first one to experience the Mississippi River to flow backwards? (See number 1) But this person, whoever it may be, is coming. They will find you and you and will beat your chest so hard you will think they are killing you again. But, alas, your shattered heart will find itself once more and your water-logged lungs will breath again.

You will be ok.

You will live.

You will thrive.

And you will again rediscover the mystique and mystery of this river again.

You won’t need to find its current, it will graciously find you.

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