The Will of the River -Alfredo Gonzales Jr.

1 BY MY WIFE’S ancestral home flows a river. For a dozen summers I have visited it, and almost every year I make an effort to trace its course back to its source in the neighboring hills; I do not consider my vacation there complete without doing this. In common with other streams of its kind, our river suffers much from the summer drought. I have seen it so shrunken that fish lay lifeless on the parched sand and gravel of its bed. But this past summer I saw something I had never seen before, though I know that if I had been sufficiently observant in other abnormally dry years, I am sure I could not have failed to notice the same thing earlier.

2 One morning last April, in company with a student friend and my elder son. I started out for the hill to spend the day by the rapids and cascades at a place called Intongasan. We followed the course of the river. After we had walked a kilometer or more, I saw that the river had disappeared and its bed was dry. I looked around in wonder because past our little country house below and out toward the sea half a mile or so farther down, the river was flowing clear and steady in Its usual summer volume and depth. But where we stood at the moment there was no water to be seen. All about us the wide river bed was hot and dry.

3 We pursued our way on toward the hills, however, and walking another kilometer we saw the stream again, though it had spread itself so thin that it was lost at the edge of the waterless stretch of burning sand and stones. And yet, continuing our way into the hills, we found the river grow deeper and stronger than it was as it passed by our cottage.

4 To most people, I suppose, there is nothing strange or significant in this. Perhaps they have seen such a phenomenon more than once before. To me, however, it was a new experience and it impressed me like all new experiences. To me, it was not merely strange, it suggested a spiritual truth.

5 Flowing down from its cradle in the mountains just as it left the last foothills, the river had been checked by the long, forbidding stretch of scorching sand. I had read of other streams that upon encountering similar obstacles irretrievably lost themselves in sand or mud. But Bacong-because that is the name of our river-determined to reach the sea, tunneled its way, so to speak, under its sandy bed, of course choosing the harder and lower stratum beneath, until at last it appeared again, limpid and steady in its march to sea.

6 And then I thought of human life. I was reminded of many a life that stopped short of its great end just because it lacked the power of will to push through hindrances.

7 But I thought most of all of those who, like our river, met with almost insurmountable obstacles but undismayed continued their march, buried in obscurity perhaps but resolutely pushing their way to the sea, to their life’s goal. I thought of men like Galileo, who continued his work long after his sight had failed; of Beethoven, who composed his noblest and sublimest symphonies when he could no longer hear a single note; of Stevenson, who produced some of his greatest work after he was doomed to die of tuberculosis; and of Cecil Rhodes, who was sent to Africa to die of an incurable disease, but before he obeyed the summons carved out an Empire in the Dark Continent. These resolute and sublime souls all reminded me of what our river taught me-that if we cannot overcome obstacles, we can undercome them.

8 Another lesson I learned from Bacong is found in the fact that the river was not merely determined to flow just anywhere; it was determined to reach the sea, to reach the great end. Many streams manage to surmount barriers they meet along the way, but they come out of obstacles after much labor only to end in a foul and stagnant marsh or lake. How like so many human lives! How like so many people who, in the springtime of their youth and in the summer of their early manhood, showed splendid heroism against frowning odds, determined to overcome those hostile barriers, only in the autumn of their lives to end in defeat, disgrace, and remorse.

9 On the other hand, think of other lives that, like our river, kept their way even to the end of their course.

10 I believe it was on our way back from the hills that the lesson of faithfulness in the performance of one’s duty was forcefully suggested to me. The truth occurred to me that nature often fulfills her duty more faithfully than man does his.

11 And what is the duty of a river? It is to furnish safe running water for plant and fish and fowl and for man and beast. The river is not there just to flow on and enjoy itself. The river must play its part in the processes of nature; to live, in other words, for the rest of creation.

12 And so it should be with the life of man. It is not to be lived unto itself alone for its own joy and satisfaction but for others in glad and devoted ministry. How life and beauty and goodness, indeed, would perish from the world if man and nature should fail in their duty! If our river had not remained faithful to its duty, instead of a landscape picturesque with the varied green of the foliage of shrubs and trees and gay with the voices of the birds singing and calling to one another in the branches that April morning, there would have been spread before us a wide expanse of desolate and lifeless land, fit only for the wanderings of Cain.

13 For part of the ministering duty of a river is to flow on and on, otherwise be foul and unfit for use. There is music in running water. Bacong, by continuing its march to the sea, kept itself fit for the service of nature and man; and not only it expanded its field of usefulness.

14 And does this not suggest that the river of man’s life should be likewise? For if in the face of obstacles it lacks the strength of will to continue keeping itself fit to serve and seeking new opportunities for service, it will ultimately become useless to others.

15 As I marveled at the power of Bacong to push its way through such a seemingly impassable barrier, I discerned the secret-a secret that has a message for all of us. For Bacong was able to carry on, to continue its watery pilgrimage and reach the immensity and sublimity of the sea, only because its source is the vast and lofty mountains. Unless a stream draws its power from a source of sufficient height and magnitude, it cannot do as our river did this summer. It will not have the strength to cut its way through great obstacles and reach the sea at last. Here is one of the marvelous secrets of live, and how many have missed it! Verily, if a man derives his strength and inspiration from a low and feeble source, he will fail to “arrive.” Unless a man draw his power from some source of heavenly altitude, unless the stream of his life issues from a never-failing source, unless, in other words, his soul is fed from heights of infinite power, he may well fear that he will not reach the sea. But if his spirit is impelled and nourished by an inexhaustible power he will in spite of all obstructions, finish his course, if not in the glory of dazzling achievement, at least in the nobility of a completed task faithfully done.


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