The River and the Dam



It’s interesting, how conversations start and change. I have no idea how, but somehow my brother and I have drifted to the topic of art therapy and its uses. He tells me how it is being used to great effect with soldiers returning home with PTSD. Apparently there’s a recurring motif seems to be a mouth sewn shut; the feeling of voicelessness given speech through art therapy.

That got me thinking: how would I depict my job in that kind of art? I’m not much of a visual artist (that’s Alice), and while I might have a slight aptitude for photography, I can’t draw worth a darn. I tend to process my thoughts and emotions through words, not images. But if I was asked to draw my feelings about my job, to find an image to convey my emotions…
Almost as soon as I think it, I see it. A wild river, a gray concrete dam rising up out of it, controlling the flow of the water. It’s solid, sturdy–or so the people on top of the dam tell me. But that solidity is an illusion. From where I stand, waist-deep in the water on the other side of the dam, I can see the small cracks etched in that wall of concrete. The cracks are growing in size, joining up with each other; water seeps and trickles through.
And here I am, one arm jammed into the nearest crack, the other desperately scrabbling, trying to widen the river on my side. The water’s getting higher on the other side, the river swollen and rough: there’s a flood coming and this dam isn’t going to hold. I’m trying to hold up the dam while I prepare the river to handle the floodwaters. There’s no doubt in my mind: this dam is going to crack, crumble. I don’t want to get swept away when all that pressure finds its release…but I can’t leave. Those people on the top, they can run for it: straight off the dam and across the cliffs. I can’t. I can see all too clearly and too personally what will be destroyed if I pull my arm from the dam and make a run for it. I can also see places where I can adapt the river, so we can ride out the inevitable wave. I wish those people up top would come down here and help me, or get off so I don’t have to hold up their added weight too. It seems like more and more are gathering to stare down at me.

Well, not “me”. There’s a thousand cracks–that’s true. There’s also hundreds of arms reaching out. Is it enough? I don’t know. I can’t step back long enough to count them; all I know is that I’m grateful for each person who stands with me.

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