Rocks and Rivers

Joe Giallo - Ecuador


November 5, 2010

I was sitting out by the river today with my family, and their family, and their family’s family, and then friends, and also the two Canadians who live nearby (they speak no Spanish at all, and seem to think it’s great that I’ve arrived and I speak enough to translate), when a thought occurred to me. I was watching the water, and listening to that same sometimes soothing, sometimes droning noise that rivers are like to make, when I realized that it all looked the same, and sounded the same, even though the water was moving past in different ways and the noise’s undulations had no pattern whatsoever. Isn’t that a lot like the world? Always changing. We can even conceptualize that change. But we never really see it, or hear it, or perhaps worst of all, feel it?

Living out here has been eye-opening, in unexpected ways more than others, and I’ve only been here, what, a day? It’s funny to look back on my life, and at the times I would have been appalled by living on the same plot of land as pigs, or helping clean the innards out of a chicken for lunch, or throwing toilet paper into the trash can, instead of flushing it. I can remember vividly when the thought of getting my hands dirty, or living in a house with a concrete floor, or having to actually go to a different building to use the bathroom would’ve had me reeling with disgust. Obviously, none of those things are true now. But what’s shocking, to me at least, is that I’m surprised at myself.

Surprised that this change happened, and I didn’t realize it. I thought I’d be a lot more uncomfortable here. I really did. And yet, no such thing. Todo es tranquilo. People have argued for a long time that the world never changes, but I think they’re wrong. I think we never feel change because we never put ourselves in the position, or mindset, to feel it. And not just on

the level of individual people, where change can be fairly obvious given the right circumstances. I mean, in general, on a worldwide scale. The nature of our world is constantly changing. The people who argue that there are general motifs in human history haven’t been looking close enough. All they see is the river, and not the water itself. If you’re looking at the water, the subtle movements of rocks over the course of the years, is much more obvious. Little pebbles, slowly tumbling down stream, like the progression of technology.

Larger rocks, shifting under the weight of the water, diverting the water in new and unexpected directions, like the outcomes of wars, forever altering the course of the human race. Giant boulders, slowly eroding over thousands of years, until nothing left exists except dust, like racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. All the while the water of humanity flows, influenced by these rocks, but never the same. Always changed, always changing. Sometimes it just takes a long time or a fine lens for anyone to perceive the change the world is undergoing.

As a GCY fellow, I would be happy to just move a couple little rocks. I’ll see the change, because I’m looking at the water here in Apuela, but maybe nobody else will? That’s fine with me. All of the rocks I move today will shift the waters of the future, even if just in an imperceptible way, and provide a great deal of practice for shifting the grand rocks and tearing down the boulders that our world will confront in the years to come.

Joe Giallo