The Channel

Photo by John Neilson, used with permission

Everyone who lives long enough begins to decay.  The body and the mind wither, shedding the volume and weight and substance no longer sustainable in the age of decline. Before the physical withering takes place, or maybe concurrently with that decline, there’s something else. Something uniquely human begins to erode from a constant wash of disappointments and loss and anger and fear. Call it the soul; call it whatever you like. That singularly human attribute is the source of religion, morality, empathy, sympathy, and loathing.  It is the impossibly-hard-to-understand character of humanity. It is what allows us to care.  And it is what permits us to hate. It is the part of us we want desperately to control. But in our misguided attempts to control it, we can go too far. We can kill it.

“It.” I don’t have a proper term of reference. I choose not to say “soul,” though you might, because that implies something mystical and religious. I don’t think there is a connection to a god or a supernatural force that lies beyond us. No, it’s something inside. It churns along the banks of a river inside us, scraping relentlessly at its banks, digging the channel ever deeper and wider. If the banks along the channel are strong, the muddy flow clarifies over time. But if the banks are weak and begin to collapse, the channel goes off course.

We build locks and dams. We try to control the channel with structures designed to limit or regulate the flow. It is not enough to control our own channels. Societies feel the need to impose control over their members. Regulations, norms, taboos, political systems, and religions are among the tools we use to impose controls over the channel.

Sometimes, when a river can’t accommodate the flow from an upstream flood, the restricted flow causes the rushing torrent of water to over-top its channel.  When that happens, the water can begin to cut a new channel, cutting off a bend in the river and leaving the old channel full of water with nowhere to go.  Some of that water evaporates, but much of it stagnates, putrefying into a rancid pool.

When the anger and the fear and the disappointments shred the channels inside us, we may turn to those external tools—the locks and the dams—to keep the river within its channel or we may allow the walls to collapse.  In either case, there is a pool with no outlet, the flow restricted.  Our options are limited; we can dig a new channel or drown in a rancid pool.

You know, of course, this is just me releasing my pent up, but poor, creativity. One day, if I successfully polish my skills, this piece may find its way into something longer, fuller, and better. For now, it is relegated to this blog, confined between the banks and approaching the dam.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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