by Erica Riddick
I came up, breaking the surface of the water, and opened my eyes. Fresh lake water droplets melded with my saltwater tears. So many things colliding together at once burst forth as a geyser of emotion. I had entered the water in Saugatuck, Michigan with the intention of marking a transition toward healing after an embittered journey around housing instability. Ongoing issues persisted, but I needed to honor my valiant creative attempts to find a remedy and make a crucial choice to stabilize waning health compromised over the years of the dispute.
Despite a sense of lightness in letting go, the heaviness of the continuing unjust realities of my situation slammed into the steady awareness that the waters 146 kilometers southwest had swallowed my father’s last breath. I imagine his O2 dissolved into H2O, and the molecules between my body and the Cook County waters of Chicago well-mixed over the years of my tragic childhood loss. I felt my father’s deep well of love for me buoying me in the waters.
I believe land holds memory of the life that has come and gone over existence. It makes sense that memories also live in water. I thought of the tectonic plates ripping apart 1.2 billion years ago during the Mesoproterozoic era that created the 2,000-mile-long Keweenaw Rift, “a continental scale fissure” resembling how the Atlantic came to separate Europe from North America. Creating void for the immense 55,800 square kilometers of lake surface area and 4,920 cubic kilometers of water volume I was currently bobbing in. I envisioned the Indigenous Hopewell people who dwelled here even before the Ojibwa people whose word mishigami for large lake named this body of water.
I considered how a significant percentage of the world’s fresh waters contained here sustains 12 million human lives along 1,180 miles of estimated shoreline. I reflected on the diversity of other animal life maintained in the air, land, and waters that never fully freeze over, including an endangered river otter. Time ceased being linear with the weight of the Petoskey stone in my hand as I walked into the water. This piece of fossilized coral colony anchored this place, the only location in the world where these stones can be found, with the Devonian geologic period of the Paleozoic era that formed them, alongside my present-day moment, formed by everything that brought me to my current Anthropocenic moment in space, time, and emotion.
As I waded to the edge of the shoreline, with less and less of my body supported by ancestor-infused water, worry weighed more and more on my hopes for natural places like this sliver of lake access into fresh life sustaining water. Stories like creation and Noah’s ark in Genesis leave an impression that water is endlessly plentiful. In comparison, with the earth scaled as the size of a basketball, all the planet’s water would fit into a ping-pong ball and all freshwater would fill a kernel of popcorn. If all the earth’s water were a bathtub, all the available freshwater would be the volume of a shot glass. This is a different image for accessible volumes of an element we cannot live without.
I left my impromptu mikveh overflowing with gratitude for being able to easily immerse in a publicly accessible body of water. It is not inconceivable that the water rights struggles faced by indigenous tribes in the southwest around access and contamination could one day manifest in the northeast. Could man-made control divert water in ways that physically alters or contaminates available quantities in specific areas for some people or wildlife? Decisions that don’t acknowledge downstream or adjacent neighbors. Choices that ignore the natural cycles of balance. The joy of buying my first home remains poisoned by lingering issues of access and city service delivery. Yet, I am grateful to have a safe place to rest in a place where water is instantly accessible inside my house through taps in multiple rooms, brought to me by my paid water bills. Gratitude overflows with each drink of water, the ice that chills it, every bath that cleans my body, boiling water that cooks my rice, rain that grows crops, and mikva’ot that render me ritually pure and ready for what comes next.
Learn more about World Water Day at www.worldwaterday.org.
Erica Riddick is a bridge, creator, storyteller, and three-dimensional thinker who has woven together reflective wisdom from a career in architecture, as a Jewish educator, as a founder, and through robust volunteer and organizing experiences. Jews of Color Sanctuary and the Bilha Zilpah Project are focal projects. Erica is Special Projects Manager at Beloved Garden, facilitator for the current Rising Tide Seven Steps Mikveh Guide Training Cohort 7, and embarking on a short-term project for Kavod v’Nichum researching end-of-life rituals and practices of Jewish people of color. As Jewish Women’s Archive Twersky Education Fellow, Erica has honed a regular personal writing practice into a regular publishing practice through a monthly newsletter. Hobbies include ballroom dancing, improv, and live action role-playing gaming. Friends will tell you that Erica is ALWAYS learning something. Erica is home-based on Kaskaskia and Myaamia lands in Ohio and also periodically sets up camp in Boston-land, DC-land, and Champaign, Illinois, living their best nomadic remote-working life among the children and pets of beloveds across the country.