Once there was a village. It was deep in the forest, in a place filled with trees and grasses and beautiful birds.
The people of the village worked hard, but they had a good life. There was enough food and there were safe places to sleep.
A stream ran through the village. It was clean and clear, but it was powerful, too. The people used the water to drink, to stay clean and to cool off on hot days. Every adult used the stream, and some of the kids learned to swim there.
As time went on, and the generations passed, the little village grew in size and prosperity. The settlement became a town, with paved roads and stores and groups of houses. The stream still ran through it, winding gently along the main street. Some people still used the water for everyday chores, although most people had plumbing in their houses by now.
The stream became a place for recreation and sport, but was no longer key to the survival of the townspeople. It was just a nice little relic of the past. A good place for picnics on hot summer days.
One day someone decided that it would be fun to dam up the water. He wanted to make a pool where people could not only fish, but also swim, dive and jump off the steep banks. It sounded like fun, and so it was done.
As the years passed, people got used to the pool and to the bigger, more powerful flow of water that moved through town below the dam. Some people used the pool but feared the faster stream. Some loved all of the water and used it everyday.
Life went on.
A few more generations passed, and another water-user decided that it would be fun to narrow the flow of water below the dam. “It will go faster,” he thought, “It will have more power.” When he presented the idea to the townspeople, some told him that they thought the water was powerful enough already.
“We have water in our homes to drink and bathe. We have a pool for fun, and a quick running stream for excitement. Why would we need a more powerful flow of water?”
The water-user and his friends thought about this for a bit. They really wanted to play around with stronger, faster water. How could they convince people to let them have more a powerful water source to play with?
“I know!” said one water-user. “The water can protect us! If invaders come to our town, we can escape quickly on the fast moving stream!”
People are funny. Even though the town had never once been invaded in its entire history, the threat of war was enough to convince the leaders to invest in the narrower, stronger stream.
Little by little, year by year, the water-users of the town continued to work on the pool and the stream. Most people paid little attention to the changes that were made. They were busy with jobs and families and school and sports.
Slowly and steadily the water grew higher, faster and less controlled. It began to frighten people when two small children were swept to their deaths one winter evening. A few people suggested that it might be time to slow the water down. But many people enjoyed swimming in the pool, kayaking on the upper stream and even riding the white waters of the swift lower channel. So an argument broke out.
“Let’s not overreact,” they said. “We need the water for fun. And what would happen if the running water in our pipes ever stopped, or if dangerous invaders came through? We need our water! It’s our right to have this water!”
Heads nodded. Beards were stroked. Nothing was changed.
Every year that passed saw slight changes to the riverbed and the water’s flow.
And every year that passed saw more people dying from the increasingly powerful waters. At times of heavy rain, the lower stream would flood. Entire families were swept away, scooped right out of their beds by the raging torrent.
Now the people of the town began to complain to their leaders.
“We’re afraid of this water! It’s just too much. Something MUST be done!”
The leaders were confused, unsure of what to do. But the water-users offered to help.
“We know what to do” they said. “We will offer free swimming lessons to every person in town! We will sell fabulous water wings in the local stores.”
That quieted things down for a bit, and the demands to slow the water faded away. But not for long.
After a few more years, the water-users had created waterfalls, rapids and even faster and narrower streams running through town.
“So much safety!!!” they cheered. “No invaders will ever be able to defeat us!”
Then one spring, without warning, the weather turned terrible and stormy. The rains fell for weeks on end. The waters in the pool rose ever higher. The stream below the dam became a raging, screaming whirlpool. Some people in town were terrified, but others found it exciting.
Exciting, that is, right up until the moment when the flood burst through its banks and smashed in all the windows at the nearby school. As the children screamed and drowned, all of the adults raced to the rescue. They cried as they pulled the drowning children through the broken glass. They treated the survivors with tenderness and care. They sobbed and they grieved as they buried the little ones who could not be saved.
They were united in their sorrow and in their determination to make the town a safer place. One grieving mother asked,
“Now should we do something to slow down the water? Now can we drain the pool?”
The town leaders and the water-users thought about it. They were just as sad as everyone else, but they weren’t ready to let go of their best defense against potential dangers. They weren’t ready to let go of all the fun that the water offered.
“How about if we rebuild the school so that it has no windows anymore?” they suggested. This would certainly take care of the problem of water breaking the windows.
The school was rebuilt without a single window. The children and the teachers went back in to recreate their learning space in the darkness. They huddled there in fear, but they hoped that the leaders were right and that now at last they were safe.
But one year the raging river flooded again, and this time it was the door that was broken. More children and teachers died.
Again, the town grieved and wept and swore to make things safer.
This time they bricked up all the doors and put a locked bulkhead on the roof to let the children and teachers in. Every morning, the children watched as their teachers pulled the bulkhead door open. Every morning, they climbed down into the darkness.
And when the bulkhead was swept away in the next flood, the town leaders gathered once again.
“Now what?” they asked the water-users. “Now how do we keep our children safe?”
This time they decided that every classroom should contain a boat. A special safety boat that would be deployed only in the event of another flood.
By now they knew that the river was out of control, that the cataract could not be contained, that the school would once again be hammered by the deadly force of the water.
They put their hope in the boats.
When one timid child asked why they didn’t try to slow the water instead of imprisoning the kids in a school filled with rising water, the leaders only patted her on the head and told her to leave it to the adults.
I know, I know. I am not subtle. And I’m clearly not a fiction writer. But today I watched America’s children marching out of their classrooms because they are terrified that they will be murdered in the place that should be the safest place in their lives. Some of them were babies, as young as third or fourth grade. They had tears on their cheeks. I watched, I sobbed, I paced. I am a mother, a grandmother, a teacher. My entire life is about nurturing and protecting children.
Now I am watching them fight to protect themselves. I can’t get over my anger, rage, sorrow and shame. I WILL march on the 24th. I will scream, yell, cry and clap. And I WILL vote very, very carefully.