Are You Merrily Rowing Downstream?

I’m sure you all remember this song we learned as children: “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily.  Life is but a dream.”  It was fun to sing, particularly if you had people around to begin singing it along with you at various intervals.  It sort of went on and on and on, and I remember being practically delirious all those years ago with the delight of multiple children’s voices mindlessly making music together.  And the words were so simple.  

Two weeks ago, my minister asked his congregation to take a closer look.

What do the words mean?  Really?  Row your boat merrily gently downstream.   If you go “gently” downstream and row as if rowing mattered, life is but a dream.  Do you think the writer of the ditty meant something more than we as children interpreted it?  Or is it  another case of someone interpreting too deeply and spoiling all the fun?

In my book, Skipping Stones, my character Sam writes a note of encouragement to Jess, who has finally (and fearfully) decided to break her silence about the abuse going on in her home and free herself and her children to live without fear.   In the note, he includes a quote that I found a while ago:  “I stand, I reach, I yearn, I bellow, and finally I live.  What do you do?”  Notice the sequence of the words.  He was telling Jess, and I was encouraging all women in abusive situations, to take a stand, to dare to dream, to cry and to get angry and yell out – to bellow, in fact.  But to finally be what she was meant to be.  And truly live.

What does Sam’s message to Jess have to do with the song about rowing downstream and being merry about it?  A lot.  Because if we float along, pretending that we’re not being carried along by the tide, and even assume merriment along the way,we’re dreaming.  We’re not really living.  “Life is but a dream.”

The two messages, and, I dare say, mine, is that being simply safe is never good enough.

I sign off with one more quote:  “It is never too late to be the person you were meant to be.”  George Eliot

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