Downstream Living

Looking downstream along the Middle Prong in autumn  -  Tremont Section  -  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s water under the bridge,” meaning that something has occurred and your ability to influence it has passed. A while back, I read a front page article in the Casper (Wyoming) Star Tribune that provided a different perspective on the analogy of flowing water. Artist and photographer Lew Wilson was quoted as saying, “We all live downstream.”

I was immediately struck by the wisdom of this four-word sentence. Just as I live downstream from other folks, other people live downstream from me. Thus, what I say (or don’t say) and things that I do (or refrain from doing) can have an impact on people who live on the other side of – or downstream from – my words and actions. This influence can be small or it can be significant. It can be stated or it can be silent. The impact may be in the present. Or, it may be in the future – around a bend in the river, so to speak – where I’m not present.

The influence I have can be invisible to most other folks, such as putting a piece of paper in the recycling bin rather than the trash can. Or it can be more overt, such as helping a stranger jump-start his car. On the other hand, speaking unkindly to someone will probably have a negative impact on that person. And taking up two parking spots with my car could have an adverse impact on a number of people.

Would it come as a surprise to you if I told you that Jesus often spoke of downstream living? Well, He did use different words. I’m guessing that you will recognize the five-word sentence He used to summarize His thoughts on this subject:

Love your neighbor as yourself.
– Matthew 22:39 (New International Version)

It would be difficult to overstate the importance Jesus gave to this aspect of life since He termed the above statement as the Second Greatest Commandment.