Before sitting down to write this, I opened the fridge and scanned my offerings. Kombucha. Cans of seltzer water. Almond milk. I had boxes of tea bags and fresh coffee in the pantry. An insistent part of my brain wanted any of those options, just a little something that would feel like a treat. A hit of sweet. A tart zing.
But I filled a glass with water instead, dropped in a few ice cubes, and sat down at this desk. Water is the only vital thing. Writing often feels that way to me, too.
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I went to Cape Cod last week for a conference. My coworkers and I stayed at the Chatham Bars Inn on the elbow of the cape, which looked like it had fallen out of the pages of The Great Gatsby. The curving, light-filled inn and its surrounding cottages and outbuildings faced the Atlantic Ocean, just across the street. The grounds lay quiet and manicured, the cottages quaint with shake shingle siding and white trim, but it was the ocean that stunned me.
The beach was in a harbor, ringed by sandbars and outcroppings. The water was calm, lapping at the shore. No cresting waves. No roar.
On the first afternoon of our stay, I joined my coworkers on the beach. We waded into the water, feeling refreshed after working outside and sitting in the sun. I could see my feet underwater. I watched minnows dart around and seaweed drift in the tide. I agreed to swim again the next morning.
We met on the beach at 6:00 the next day, jogging barefooted up and down the short stretch of land to get warm. Light was just rising from the horizon, and the air felt thick on my skin.
Bob dove in first and came up gasping. I knew I had to go in all at once or I wasn’t going to do it. I counted to three, clenching up, and then dove. It took my mind and body a few seconds to connect properly. The water was bracing. It made me feel alive. I could taste the salt in my mouth.
We sat, submerged in two feet of water, and watched the sunrise. I told myself, You are in the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise. Pay attention. The sky glowed with a palette of rich, warm colors. I felt myself on the earth, in the ocean, in the moment. Connected. Grateful.
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Water draws together villages and towns and people. We swim and wash our dishes and bathe each other and drink water. Water separates us. Salty oceans sit unforgiving and mighty between the continents. Water carries us to new places. Water is a blessing and a scarce resource.
I drink from my glass and I think about how more of us struggle to have enough clean water. I think about where my water comes from. I try to say no to Aquafina and Dasani and other corporate-fueled bottles of “purified” drinking water. I tell myself I could carry bottled water in my car on hot summer days for homeless men and women in my city.
When I think about water, I see all of us connected. I have questions about our future. I hope desperately for answers. Water is the only vital thing.