The Water Is Wide
I remember once working my way down a mountain trail, over roots and rocks, until I finally reached the trail’s end and stood on the bank of a wide, wide lake. My knees were rubbery and my energy was waning. I recall looking out over the lovely lake and wondering to myself, if I had to, how would I cross that water? I doubted that my rudimentary raft-building skills, acquired in childhood as a boy scout, would be up to the challenge of building a vessel that would enable me to cross the expanse of water that lay before me. Luckily, our hike brought us along the perimeter of the lake and back to the parking lot where our vehicle awaited.
Pete Seeger, in his famous song ‘The Water Is Wide’, understood the challenge of crossing over to the other side. His opening verse,
“The water is wide, I cannot cross over,
And neither have I wings to fly,
Give me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall row – my love and I.”
captures the dilemma for the human person. Without wings, we cannot fly. But we can cross over with a vessel. Seeger asks not for a solo vessel but for a communal one, one that can carry at least two people. And if both row, both work, then a crossing will be possible. It seems to me that Pete Seeger, the labor-singing activist, was on to something. Activists accomplish little on their own. No, true activism is communal and rooted in love.
At a deeper level Seeger sings of a humble approach to life, one that recognizes the limits of the human. We were not created to fly or to escape to ‘castles in the sky’ (St. Teresa of Avila). We were not created for loneliness or for segregation. We were created for solitude in community, for love and work. Through community, love and work we are able to cross to the other side of the differences that divide and challenge us as a species.
Such humility is needed in our day and particularly when we look at the geo-political waters before us. There are many waters to cross, both in our nation (Canada) and across the globe. I’m much more interested in building boats with others than sitting on the shore cursing the waters that divide. No, the communal boat is worth building and worth sailing to the other side. That is how we can help build a nation. That is how we can help to repair our world.