Living Water

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:

Sargent-bedouin-women-carrying-water-jars-1891.jpg!HalfHD

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:

Hacker-BytheWatersofBabylon

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:

Bronzino-moses-strikes-water-from-the-wall-rocks.jpg!HalfHD

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:

Dagnan-Bouveret

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:

IMG952806

12 thoughts on “Living Water

  1. Lynn Kauppi says:

    The best blog post you’ve ever written Claudia, my friend. Very moving.
    How did you hold your left hand like that? After all my years in respiratory therapy, grad school, and editing my wrists are pretty shot. You life models always astonish me.

    Lynn

    • artmodel says:

      Lynn,

      Don’t be too impressed with my modeling prowess in this particular instance, because I must confess that Danny and I eventually took a photo of the pose and he continued to work from that as a reference. Sorry to burst the bubble! But it is a great pose and holding the apple was pretty cool.

      I’m really gratified that you think this is my best – or one of my best – blog posts. Wow, thanks for that, friend. If it moved you, then I’m happy 🙂

      Great to hear from you!

      Claudia

  2. artmodelandrew says:

    The multi-year drought has certainly made water supply a serious topic here in California. Personally, I think there needs to be a moratorium on new construction until/unless water sources can be identified to support it. If you’ve seen the movie Chinatown, you’re aware that Los Angeles hasn’t been water self-sufficient for 100 years. The region can’t support infinite growth. San Diego County’s desalination project is costing them $1 billion to build and will supply 7% of their water. There’s no cheap/simple fix.

    Regarding clean water access in developing countries, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the development of a machine that converts wastewater into potable water and electricity. Here’s a video of Bill Gates explaining the system and drinking the effluent. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVzppWSIFU0

    • artmodel says:

      Andrew,

      That Gates video was fascinating. What an incredible system. That could very well be the game-changer.

      And yes I’m aware of California’s drought woes. Seems like it should be receiving more national attention than it is. I saw a photo essay of the drought-ravaged farmland in the Central Valley. The pictures were beyond depressing. Like you said, the costs of solving this problem are enormous. And I’m willing to bet that politics will interfere in things getting done in a smart and efficient manner, like politics always does.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

  3. Dave says:

    What a great post, Claudia! My wife works here in Michigan for a water protection non-profit, and my daughter has been working on a project in school to develop cheap ways to get clean water in developing countries. So this hit home with me, and the art you chose to accompany was terrific.

    • artmodel says:

      Dave,

      You must be so proud of your girls, especially your daughter! Kudos to her and her wonderful project. That’s great. I’m so glad this post holds personal interest for you. I wish I could discuss the topic more intelligently, but I will keep learning. And caring … always.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Claudia

  4. Bill says:

    It is a great post — including the artwork.

    It’s no coincidence that the world’s great religions emphasis the purifying qualities of water — whether it’s the Jews’ passage through the Red Sea, or Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, or Hindus bathing in the Ganges. Water was said to flow miraculously from the fingers of Muhammed. Aside from religious beliefs, Jung said that water was the most common symbol for the Unconscious.

    That’s how deep these ideas are embedded in our humanity.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      Deeply embedded for sure. Imagine trying to compile all the references to the significance of water in religion, art, literature, poetry, etc. That would be a lot! And my astrological sign – Cancer – is a water sign. Had to throw that in 🙂

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

  5. Jennifer says:

    A very thoughtful piece, beautifully illustrated.

  6. Lynn Howarth says:

    Thank you for writing this blog about water. It’s a timely reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to just go to the tap and drink the pure, clean, life sustaining water we are lucky enough to enjoy without so much as a backwards thought. We take it so much for granted don’t we?

    • artmodel says:

      Lynn,

      We certainly do. It’s easy – too easy – for us to take things for granted. Water, food, shelter, family, so many things.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

      Claudia

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