The Well -- 2

Our well gave out on Sunday. It was our own damned fault: I'd done three big loads of laundry on Saturday, and the younger kid had decided to have a nice long bath in our oversized tub. While laundering, I'd noticed that the cold-water pressure seemed low, and to speed up the filling and rinsing process, I'd drawn several big buckets of water, wondering if perhaps we'd better start cutting our water use. I realized then just how much water the washing machine uses for a large load.... And then on Sunday morning, the water came in slow and dirty, and we knew that the well was dry. First time in all the time I've been here--14 years. I felt mildly stunned.

It shouldn't have come as such a surprise. We've had hardly any rain for a long, long time; even the weeds look parched. The shrubs are drooping, lawns are a uniform sad brown, and the corn in the fields is half the height it should be. After a brief deluge on Thursday, the ground was hard as a rock again within 12 hours. And the heat has been punishing: over the last ten days, we've set record after record. It's killing heat, literally: it makes you feel sick and exhausted: it sends your temperament and your digestive system all wonky. You get headachy and breathing comes hard; the very air feels thick and ropy, and the least exertion sends the sweat streaming down the back of your neck. We aren't used to this. This is Canada, fergawdsakes! Yes, it gets warm in the summers, but not like *this*.

We cope, of course. We do have some well water back, and we treat it with great respect. We swim in a friend's pool and do laundry at her house; we wash in an inch-deep bath; we drink bottled water and recycle dishes. It's possible to live with an awful lot less water than we normally use. And it's good to be reminded that this is the way that the majority of humankind has to live. I live in a country with 10% of the world's fresh water; I spent a week, not long ago, camping by a good-sized freshwater lake on an island in a very large freshwater lake. But millions of my sisters around the world have to carry each precious drop home from the village well. Fetching water is almost always women's work, and hard work, and constant. Millions of their children will die for lack of the stuff I take for granted, clean good water. Maybe having the well run dry is a good poke in my spiritual ribs, to remember them and pray for them, and to send practical help (that is, money) as I can afford.

But the well's failure reminded me of something else. My own well runs dry sometimes: the well of creativity, the well of love. I get tired of the draws and demands, and I feel I've got nothing left to give. When I send the bucket down, it comes up with mere sludge. My writing feels flat, and the only thing I seem to be able to offer (where I should be offering love) is mere irritability, rising at times to a snappishness that makes me thoroughly disgruntled with myself. And as for my relationship with God--that's as dim and gritty as the well water was on Sunday, and it burps and sputters like a waterpipe full of air blocks. No fun at all.

I can, of course, remember back to all the other times when God didn't seem to be in the same corner of the universe where I now am, and I know that this is just par for the course. As Elizabeth Goudge wisely observed, "true darkness and the murkiness of ill health could be intertwined, to one's confusion." We are our souls and bodies, of course, but our souls and bodies are so profoundly and intricately intertwined that when one ails, the other also by its nature aches. So maybe the two parched states are somehow connected?

I don't know. I do think of the psalms a lot these days, and especially of longing for water: being led beside still waters; the hart longing for the water courses; trees growing alongside the stream. Never forget that the Jews were a desert people: they prized the stuff we take so completely for granted. They too had wells, and they too had wells go dry--or go bitter and turbid, which is just the same. Here, we can take running water for granted. The stream at the bottom of my property is almost dry, and the water in it is thick and turbid; but in better weather, it dances, and the life in it dances too. I know streams so pure and cold that it almost hurts to drink from them. And I think of desert peoples' imagining such water, such running, rippling living stuff--and yes, it's a good image for God: a God majestic as a big river, extensive as the sea, powerful and overwhelming as a deluge--but also delightful as a freshwater creek burbling silver over stones.

We have been promised living water: running water, water flowing and dancing. We may not see it all the time. There will be times when the wells run dry, either because life is simply too much or because something has failed in us--and the failure may result from what life has done to us, or simply from our own misguided choices: we may feel that there's no love around us that we can safely draw on, or we may use our resources unwisely. But as the groundwater is still there for my well to draw on--at least a little--so God's love is there to draw on always. Except that this water table never falls, not even an inch, because it is infinitely replenished.

Now, if I could only figure out how to draw on God's living love all the time instead of only sometimes, then maybe I'd be less cranky...

Sorry: I know I'm being a little water-obsessive here. A long heat wave and no rain does that to a person after a while, especially when the house runs on a well-in-trouble instead of town water. The temperature's dropped to tolerable levels today, but the sun's still beating down. I'd better draw a bucket of water for each of the baby maples we planted a couple of years ago. Oh Lord, could we have some real rain? Please?

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 11 Aug 2001
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