70: “Without Water” (Angeles Arrien)

                “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” -W. H. Auden
                “The character of any nation or community is really built on how people take care of the poor, or the elderly, or the sick, or the youth.” -Angeles Arrien, in retelling an Eastern European folktale

                We spend so much time searching and asking for Grand Things, and here I see Auden reminding us of the little things that are themselves grand. When I was a kid, on a hot summer day, I sometimes truly tasted my water. Sometimes, when I was washing dishes, I would even stop to fill up a big glass vase, and swirl my fingers in it, feeling the currents. Sometimes I realized that this, this liquid crystal kiss, is the cradle of my life. And it is beautiful. Even then it was rare. It is rarer now. I’m going to practice.
                 Auden often speaks with an edge: go back far enough in your family line, he reminds me, and you’ll find someone who struggled to find water. Travel far enough from your door, and you’ll find someone who struggles now. (How far do you think it would be?). The fact of water, cool water to drink and to refresh, to flow and to change, and to remain the same, is itself a blessing. It is part of the foundation for all blessings. It is life.
                This semester my class has been thinking about “social contracts,” and the creation of governments and societies. All of our laws, all of our organizations–all of our lives–are based on the agreements we’ve made with each other. The agreement that land can be owned. The agreement that money has value. The agreement not to kill you for your french fries, because I’d rather not be killed for mine. Why don’t we have agreements to make sure that everyone has water? In my class a few weeks ago, when I mentioned being outraged and confused that citizens of my powerful country still starve, a student asked, “Yes, but is it really the government’s responsibility to feed them?” I don’t know. There are issues involving government spending and organization. But what would I be willing to sacrifice from my own life to make sure that everyone in my community got water? A lot, I think. I would sacrifice a lot, because we build this community, and I want a community whose character makes me proud. And because no one should go without water. What’s the downside? Less competition? A perceived limit to individual responsibility? Is that as dangerous as a drought that takes away even the tears you have to cry?
                Perhaps remembering the blessing of simply having water to live gives us a good perspective from which to see love, too. Perhaps working to ensure water for us all can help remind us why we want to live. Look at the rain, the river. Beautiful, isn’t it? For there flows life.

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