She carries a 50-gallon jug of water with her. Although I’m unsure when she started doing this, it’s safe to assume it has been for years, if not decades. In all reality, it was awaiting her the day she was born.
It’s not a role she wanted. Who would want such a burden to bear? Nonetheless, it was passed onto her, and she has had no other option but to carry it.
We met nearly two years ago when she started taking care of my son at church. I was somewhat aware of the water jug at the time, but I didn’t think too much about it. It’s not something you just ask about, so I put any thoughts of it to the back of my mind and instead focused on what good care she was giving my son.
Several months later, we attended the birthday party for a mutual friend and had a real conversation for perhaps the first time. She mentioned to me that she was attending a new church now, which left me feeling disappointed. Nonetheless, we exchanged numbers and promised each other we’d hang out. It took a few more months, but we finally did and discovered that we had more in common than we could have imagined.
My son got sick a few short months after that, and our family life got turned upside down. But she was there for me throughout that time. She came over once a week to keep me company when I couldn’t get out for Liam’s sake. I probably would have sunk into depression had it not been for those weekly visits. Our afternoon get-togethers helped to alleviate the loneliness during that season of life.
After many months of weekly visits, my thoughts about the water jug started to resurface, and I wanted to ask her questions about it but second-guessed myself. Would I only be bringing up a conversation that was too painful to talk about? Would I unintentionally say something offensive or ignorant and only add to the weight of her already overflowing jug? As a result, I said nothing. As it was, we had so much to talk about anyway. We deeply connected on several areas of life, so we enjoyed talking about those topics instead. Besides, she probably knew that I cared about her and her struggles. We had shared so many of our struggles with each other as it was. Surely, she knew I cared.
But then Dallas happened, and I could no longer keep silent.
As we added ingredients to a mixing bowl for the dessert we were making one afternoon, I asked her about it. How was she feeling in light of this tragedy? What were her thoughts?
In response, she gently took me by the hand and helped me to wade into the waters from where her jug had been filled. We didn’t enter far. She no doubt knew I didn’t know how to swim in this river. But we got our feet wet as she expressed her heart to me about these issues, and I listened with empathy and gratefulness that she had trusted me enough to share. This whole experience was a baby step for me, but it was a good first step that I envisioned would lead to many more.
A half a year later, news of what had happened in Brunswick, Georgia reached our doors, and I found myself acquiring my own water jug by that time. It wasn’t very weighty in comparison to that of my friend’s. Just a gallon at most. But it was one I had acquired as an emotional response to hers in knowing that all these events were only adding to her already overflowing jug.
I walked around my house that week, feeling exhausted by the weight of my own jug. I wanted to cry. I wanted to sleep. I just wanted to make it all go away. And all I could think about, as I carried my one-gallon jug around, was how heavy her jug must be and how much of a part of her life it was. This was her life. It had always been.
I thought to make a care package for her. It was nothing ornate or incredibly special since the pandemic was in place and my ability to get to the store was limited. Nonetheless, I did the best I could and hoped it would show her how much I cared.
As I drove to her place the next morning, I called her to confirm she’d be home when I dropped the present off at her door.
She told me how sweet it was of me to give her a gift and how she should really be doing something for me since it was Mother’s Day.
The words gushed out of my mouth as I explained to her why I wanted to give her this care package. I told her about my newly acquired water jug and how I was grieving over the heaviness of her own as I carried around my lighter burden. And once again, all I could think about was how this was her life and had always been.
She cried, and so did I. And after dropping off the package on her porch that day, I drove away asking God to comfort her heart and to show me how I could love her well in the midst of so much wrong in this world. I wanted to help bring about real change, and I needed God to show me how.
I wish I could say that carrying my gallon jug alongside my friend has been a means of bearing her burden, but I don’t think it is. And even as her other friends have come alongside her and carried their own gallon water jugs in solidarity, I don’t think these acts have diminished her load. How can the weight of the water be made less, after all, when the water doesn’t cease to keep being poured into her jug?
Still, I hope she finds comfort as we walk beside her and express our concern and desire for a better future for her and others who share her same path.
I imagine a day where she and many others like her will lead the way up a grassy knoll. They will lead, and those of us with smaller-sized jugs will follow. And then, in one sweeping motion, we will all pour out our water and shatter our jugs once and for all with shouts of joy and triumph.
And as these shouts of celebration reverberate on that hill and saturate the sky, the walls will crumble to the ground. Every stone and brick of hatred, racism, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, and injustice will fall down and break to pieces, never to be built up again.
But until God brings that day to fruition, let us “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17 ESV).