Summer of 2012
It has been hot. Temps have risen to those dreaded triple digits in New York, in Chicago, and places where the corn should be as high as an elephant’s eye, but is now dried up and inedible. Even here in my little village of Piermont on the Hudson where there are usually lovely river breezes, my grass is scorched and the petunias I planted along my driveway have wilted beyond any vegetal recognition. Writing at my computer or commuting into New York for meetings in the heat I have been reminded of an experience I had in the heat of last summer when I traveled into the Bronx every day. The following was written late last summer with my love for water and my eternal love for the Bronx.
I love water. I drink it out of faucets, coolers, fountains, my backyard hose and as snowflakes on my tongue. I love to be in it in rivers, streams, oceans, pools, my pond, stomping in mud puddles in my Wellies. I love to be on it in sailboats, kayaks, canoes, ferries, big truck inner tubes. And really I just love to look at it and listen to it. To me water just looks and feels and sounds like life itself: the trickle of a waterfall just melting after a winter freeze or the crashing of a wave.
This summer in New York was a hot one. And so perhaps we all became a little more aware of water than we usually are. People complained about the humidity while gulping from plastic bottles of Poland Spring or Deer Park or Jennifer Aniston’s Smart Water. Leaving work via the streets of the Bronx I would have to close my sun roof and nudge through the powerful spray of an open hydrant and the children and adults soaking up the blast of cold water. Concerned about kids and their parents coming to our child center who had traveled on subways and buses and hot sidewalks I ordered cases of bottled water and asked all staff to make sure everybody got water to drink when they arrived, while they were at the center and bottles to go. And yes I worried about the plastic getting warm and releasing toxins and taking eons of time to degrade but it was a matter of situation ethics. Gotta get water into every man, woman and child.
Some time in late July an email popped up on my computer screen from an organization called End Water Poverty http://www.endwaterpoverty.org/ It contained a message requesting donations which seemed quite compelling with a statement, “Our ambition is massive.” Massive ambition indeed and massively needed for there in the opening paragraph was the statistic that to this day causes me to have to catch my breath every time I find myself taking those bottles, and cups and sips of water for granted: every day 4,000 children die from drinking dirty water. That is 1,460,000 children a year, a massive number of very special, lovely individual children who die because there is no clean water for them to drink.
Water.org with the leadership of Matt Damon cites these statistics:
780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people.
3.41 million people die from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes each year.8
The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
People living informal settlements (i.e. slums) often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people living in the same city.
An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.
Take a look at their website; they have a very beautiful video (with very beautiful Matt Damon.) at http://water.org/
The heat has somewhat subsided although midday it can still get oppressive on the sidewalks of the Bronx. Yesterday I had to run back and forth a few times between the medical center and my advocacy center. I had patients and budget issues and the next meeting to go to on my mind, but most prominent in my consciousness was the aching in my sweaty wet feet as they rebelled against the cute kitten heels and pointed toes of the shoes I was wearing. “Ah, when I get home I’ll dangle my feet in my pond,” I was thinking as I looked up and saw, through the shimmering heat waves, what seemed to be an aparition in the desert approaching me. She was tall and elegant swathed in red and orange, the scarf of white wrapped over her dark brown face. It wasn’t until she was about 10 feet away from me that I could see that she looked exhausted, beads of water on her forehead, streams running down her face, her eyelids lowered. She reached out to me and I realized that we were both fortunate enough to be next to the front steps of a house under the shade of a gingko tree. Her name was Ann and she was on her way to the bus stop on Bainbridge and 210th Street. I asked her if she would like to come into my office for a while but she said she had to get to the bus and home to her apartment where her grandchildren would be arriving after school. As we shared a grandmother moment, I remembered that I had stuck a bottle of water in my briefcase and I pulled it out and offered it to her. She tipped her beautiful head back, closed her eyes, took a drink and smiled and then I remembered a line from The Little Prince: “This water was indeed a different thing from ordinary nourishment. It was good for the heart, like a present.”
The gift to me from Ann was a moment of rest under a gingko tree when I could slip off those shoes, two women sharing our love of our families, her smile and a reminder that we all need water to sustain us and keep us massively ambitious.
No matter where I am, I will always send my love to the Bronx
(photo credits: Jon Cary: 104 in Chicago. Lois Pearlman: Snow in the Bronx.)