I remember well a day when Bill and I were sitting at the edge of the Wisconsin River watching people row downstream. I said to him, “This scene reminds me of Betty,” Betty was one of my very closest friends who died of cancer in December of 2003. When she saw me rushing about or being too intense she would look at me and sing softly, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.” When Betty first sang this little melody to me many many years ago, I knew she was reminding me to slow down a bit.
As I look deeper into the words of that simple song, I see so much more. The words, row, row, row your boat speak about the energy it takes to get where we are going. But then the word, gently, follows immediately implying that though it takes energy to get through life, living life gently is important. It is not a contradiction to work hard and also work gently.

The song goes on with the rather benign phrase: down the stream. Betty would remind me that struggling again the flow of life is futile. Moving with the river of events is so much easier, less draining and far more rewarding. Then comes the reminder to do life merrily. Of course we want to do life merrily. Betty was a person who radiated and taught joy. Going through life without joy is just essential even in the midst of tough circumstances. When Bill died, I knew I needed meaning and joy in my life. Over time I did find and do find moments of joy.

Finally, the key to the whole song: life is but a dream. That is a loaded statement. Life is, after all is said and done, an illusion. Life is how each of us sees it. Ten people looking at the same event see and experience it differently. Life is but a dream. We can make choices about what we see each day.

As we sat on the shore of the Wisconsin River that day watching the canoes and kayaks moving along with the flow, I saw some people working way too hard. The river would carry them if they would just relax, let go, and enjoy its energy. I saw some get in trouble because they were not properly guiding their boats or watching where they were going. They were unaware. Some were inexperienced and needed the help of others. Because some were not paying attention they landed on one of the hundreds of sandbars in the Wisconsin River or up against the shore tangled in fallen trees. I am also sure that many of those folks were going merrily and gently down the stream in spite of obstacles and challenges.
Grateful for that simple verse that all of us know and for my friend, Betty, who opened my eyes to its deeper meaning I watched as the water of our Wisconsin River moved past me. I knew that it would make its way to the Mississippi River and out to the Gulf of Mexico where it would connect eventually with the ocean that touches so many shores.

May you go merrily and gently down the stream of your lives. Even if you are grieving a significant loss, find a moment here and there to be grateful for something or to remember a joy you shared with the beloved you lost.
Betty, Barbara and Bill: angels watching over me.


Anne Gorman
08/25/2014 12:09pm

A beautiful and sensitive way to look at a song we have known since we were young. An important message as we "go gently" down our own streams. Thank you, Mary, for this reminder. Anne

Mary Friedel-Hunt
08/26/2014 8:13am

Dear Anne, Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your appreciation for it.

08/25/2014 6:05pm

Thank you for sharing. You, and Bill, continue to touch my life, through your writings like this, and through numerous conversations that opened my thoughts to deeper meanings of every day occurrences. I am grateful for the lessons and the memories of delightful conversations. Hugs to you!

Mary Friedel-Hunt
08/26/2014 8:15am

Thank you, Becky, and hugs back to you. Thank you for reading my blog and commenting....Yes, memories of good conversations are ours. Peace, Mary

Jan Crowther
08/26/2014 2:01am

Our grand daughters sing this song and I know it well, but I've never thought much about it, apart from Life is but a dream, which has always made me stop and ponder. I love your reading of it Mary. Thank you

Mary Friedel-Hunt
08/26/2014 8:16am

Oh, Jan, I can just see you sitting with your little girls singing this song. There are many versions of it for the girls on YouTube.com. Thanks for your comments.

08/26/2014 8:41am

Thanks for this post, Mary. We know this childhood song, but as in many other nursery rhymes such as London Bridge, it tells a deeper story. I'm fairly good at rowing on, even doing it gently. Merrily can be more of a challenge, but I'm practicing and finding new ways. I following and photograph butterflies who know the art of floating gently and merrily.

Mary Friedel-Hunt
08/26/2014 8:47am

Yes, Elaine, the merrily part is a challenge for me on most days but I attempt to find something each day to "joy in" and usually can do that. I see your butterfly photographs and they are spectacular. Makes me want to get my Nikon SLR out and learn how to use it. So nice chatting this week...fun! Merry! I do like these kids songs and fairy tales for their deeper meaning. Reading Women Who Run with the Wolves was one of my favorite adventures. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a Jungian analyst and storyteller and married the two skills in this book using fairy tales to wake women up to finding their own voices. I recommend it all my women clients. Bill and I read lots of it together. If you have not read it, I suspect you would love it. It might be time for me to read it again and listen to her tapes. Her voice is so soothing.


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