He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
They give drink to every beast of the field:
He watereth the hills from his chambers:
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
- Psalm 104
On my modeling break at the 92nd Street Y the other day, I walked out of the studio into the hallway, where I filled up my water bottle from the drinking fountain. Very thirsty, I stood right there and took a few long refreshing gulps. I don’t know why I felt so dehydrated, but the cool water flowing down my throat and into my stomach felt like life being breathed back into me. Then I pushed the lever to fill my bottle again and put the cap back on. I knew I would need it for the second half of the drawing session. Just a few feet away from me was a vending machine where I could have easily purchased a bottle of SmartWater if I so chose. Or I could have dashed across Lexington Avenue to the tea shop for a lemon water. Options abound. Pull a lever; water. Turn a faucet; water. Unscrew a cap; water. Fresh clean water, all the time. It’s how we live.
Bedouin Women Carrying Water Jars, John Singer Sargent, 1891:
But 700 million people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. That number is simply staggering. Seven hundred million. Can that be right? How does one wrap their mind around such a statistic? Many of us use our checkbooks to donate to charities, as I’ve done with Episcopal Relief and Development and their clean water programs. But the problem persists, and those of us who can fill up our water bottles to our heart’s content without giving it a second thought can’t possibly understand what it’s like for those 700 million.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Arthur Hacker, By the Waters of Babylon:
Of all the basic essentials for life, probably none is more taken for granted by those who have it than water. And none has been more yoked with survival – and miracles – than water. Water heals. Water nourishes. Water baptizes and bathes and purifies. In imagery, symbolism, and stone cold reality, water is the sustainer of life. Water carves out canyons. We gestate in water in our mothers’ wombs. Our houseplants shrivel up and die when watering is neglected. Hunger strikers engaging in political protests still drink water to extend their lives as long as possible. We wonder if scientists will ever discover the presence of water on other planets. Why? Because water = life. Biological life. And spiritual life. Because water is “alive”.
But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him
will never thirst: but the water that I shall give him
will become in him a fountain of water
springing up into everlasting life.
- John 4:14
Moses strikes water from the rocks [fresco detail], Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1544:
I have never had to go to bed hungry. I have never had to walk 20 miles for water. I am a flawed and imperfect human being in more ways than I can count. But I try, with all my heart and soul, to never take for granted my advantages and good fortune – advantages bestowed upon me purely by “accident of birth”, as G.K. Chesterton would describe it. During this time of Lent, when so many give up something as an act of sacrifice or self-denial, people around the world experience deprivation every single day, due solely to their “accident of birth”, and not as some temporary penitential act during a holy season. It is, rather, their normalcy.
Horses at the Watering Trough, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, 1884:
The rector at my church told our congregation that he and his wife are sponsoring a water well project in a developing country. This page from charitywater.org describes the different kinds of clean water systems. I still have trouble grasping that something so basic, so seemingly uncomplicated as water, is an issue for millions of people in the year 2015. Maybe I’m naive. I hope I’m not.
This has been my Lenten meditation. It burst into my consciousness as a result of my greedy water-guzzling at the 92nd St Y. And discussion at church. And my daily self-reminder that I am no more deserving of anything than my fellow children of God. Life without gratitude is no life at all.
I am the figure in this painting by my friend Daniel DaSilva, Second Paradise #1: