“You can never step in the same river twice”

When I was in marching band in high school, I had a friend who, whenever he would mess up – whether that was playing the wrong note(s), or doing the wrong steps in our field show – would say, “Sorry!  It’s my first day!”  Now, of course, it wasn’t actually his first day, which is what makes the joke funny, but lately I’ve adopted a new mantra of sorts that I think sort of relates.  The mantra is pretty simple and goes something like this: It’s my first time. 

Now you might be wondering to yourself just how practical this kind of mantra is.  I mean, really, on a daily basis, how many things do we do for the first time?  For the most part, our days are filled with repetition and routine, and the number of new things we experience are few and far between.  But consider the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said, “You can never step in the same river twice.”  Now this seems, at first, to not make much sense.  Surely there’s not an entry limit for rivers, right?  You just walk up, step in, step out, and then step back in (humming the hokey pokey music is totally optional).  But, by the time that you step back into that river for the second time, it has already changed.  It is no longer the same as it was when you first stepped in.  The water that was around your feet is now 20 yards downstream, and the water you’re standing in is completely different and wasn’t there a second ago.  The rocks, the sand, the animal life, all these things will have moved or changed ever so slightly.  The world around us is in a constant state of motion and flux, and therefore nothing is ever truly exactly the same as it was before.

So, what does this have to do with my mantra.  Well, if nothing is ever exactly the same, it means that no matter how many times we’ve done a particular activity, we’ve never done it under these exact, present conditions.  I’ve preached many different sermons.  And I can look to those past experiences for insights and wisdom; in fact, I’d be foolish not to.  But regardless of all those experiences, whenever I preach a sermon, it is still the first time that I am giving that particular sermon, at that particular time, to that particular group of people.  

This way of looking at things has really increased my compassion and empathy, both for myself, as well as for other people.  This idea that we are all doing this thing we call life for the first time really helps put things into perspective.  Whether the things that we/others are experiencing are big or little, all the way from trying to get to work after oversleeping an alarm, to having a spouse that is going through cancer treatment, when you look at it through the lens of, “it’s my/their first time,” you can’t help but have compassion.  We are all trying our absolute best, but we’ve never done this before, so how can we expect perfection?

So, be kind to others, and be kind to yourself.  Afterall, it’s everyone’s first time doing today.

Blessings, Pastor Sam