When I was a child, my neighborhood flooded regularly.
I lived on a block where all the backyards joined at a long ditch. When I went to play with a friend, I took a shortcut by running alongside the ditch and jumping over it, taking care not to land in it, for the ditch was lined with thick, black mud; if it did not stink outright, it certainly smelled organic, stagnant. Sometimes fleabane, tiny, hairy daisies, grew along the banks. That’s about it for ditch decor.
Whenever a heavy rain came – and a few times during a moderate rain – the ditch overflowed. Storm drains in the curbs overflowed as well, until water covered the streets and most of the yards. My friends and I had fun wading through it as we walked home from school, sloshing as much as we could.
My father, however, was irate every time.
As soon as he saw the water backing up, he got the city on the phone.
“Listen, I’ve called before,” he’d snap at the City Official on the receiving end. “You ought to have a record of it. This whole neighborhood is flooded AGAIN. Get whoever is paid to do it to open those drainage gates.”
Every time, the City Official pleaded ignorance about said gates.
I watched Daddy’s florid face redden. “You people always act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, but I am telling you, there are flood gates controlled by a switch and somebody up there knows how to use it. There’s NO EXCUSE for a place to flood like this. Open the gates!” He glanced through the picture window in the living room. “A canoe is going down my street right now. So help me, I will get in it, come down there, and find that switch myself.”
A canoe was going down our street, neighbors having dragged out their camping stuff, rowing merrily along. A teenage boy in waders, hip-deep in the water, pulled younger siblings on a raft behind him. To my horror, one young neighbor tossed a puppy from the front steps out into the water to make sure it could swim. It could; that the puppy swam back to its owner amazed me.
Daddy’s voice got louder, his face redder, until he hung the phone up in disgust, but within an hour of his call, the flood began to diminish.
As the water level went down, so did the color in Daddy’s face. In his eyes was a glint of victory, or perhaps vindication. The City Officials had, yet again, scrambled to open the secret gates they kept forgetting about. Good thing they had my dad to remind them.
Did the gates actually exist? Did they lead to the nearby river, or where? I never knew for sure, but the timing between my father’s phone calls and the floodwaters receding is intriguing, suggesting more than a fluke.
Our regular neighborhood floods were mild annoyances in comparison to the devastation experienced by anyone whose home has been lost or whose life has been endangered. The forces of nature are beyond human control, despite the best of foresight and man-made safeguards. On a small scale, my father did what was within his power to change a situation. One voice, persisting. Today I think of the labyrinthine educational system, of American politics, the overwhelming need for change when so much is at stake, and those who are suffering. What are the gates to clearing the way, and where lies the switch? Change is a force within human control. As Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery penned: “All things great are wound up with all things little.”
Believe, be the voice, reclaim what is of value, before it is lost.
Reflect: Water is a symbol of life, as well as adaptability, healing, and cleansing. When things become overwhelming, one of these might well be a switch to seek. Which might be yours? How might you help others?