William Gibson’s play, “The Miracle Worker,” dramatizes the relationship between Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. Faced with the challenge to communicate with her deaf, dumb, and blind pupil, Annie struggles to find the key to unlock language for Helen. The climactic moment occurs when water is pumped from a well into Helen’s hands as Annie spells the word water in sign language onto that same hand. A memory from infancy when Helen understood water to be “wa-wa” suddenly springs to her consciousness and the door to communication thrillingly opens for her.
While thinking about this scene, which was based on a true event, it occurred to me that water serves as a conduit to language in my own life, specifically, novel writing.
I have found few activities as conducive to reflection and creativity as swimming laps in a pool. While my body is suspended, arms and legs automatically pushing and pulling water, my mind is free to wander. The motivation of a character in my story becomes clear. A plot hole reveals itself. Lines of dialogue flow. I keep a notebook (in a plastic Hefty bag!) in my gym bag and hurriedly scribble my new ideas as soon as I emerge from the pool. I should note that standing under a shower, washing dishes at the kitchen sink, and using a garden hose have a similar effect.
The soothing sound of flowing water, drowning out other disruptive noises, probably has something to do with its meditative qualities. No wonder fountains are so popular in parks and gardens. The women’s health center where I go for my annual checkup has a lovely fountain in the lobby. All is calm, it says. All will be fine.
“I’m singin’ in the rain,” Gene Kelly sang. However inconvenient rain can be, however gloomy the day on which it falls, it is cause for celebration. The sense of renewal is hard to deny. The skies are relieving themselves of some pressure we mere mortals can only wonder at, the dry earth becomes wet and green again, bodies of water such as streams and rivers are replenished, cars get washed, puddles appear full of intriguing reflections. Floods shake us to our foundations, inspiring both fear, anger, and awe at the power and majesty of nature.
Water cleanses. Water quenches thirst. Water is essential to life—of the body and mind.