The Water Jug

There once sat a giant water jug in the corner of the plaza of a tiny, wind-beaten, anywhere town. 

The brown and green mottled jar – well over two meters in height – had been there for as long as anyone could remember; and no matter the day, time, year, or generation, the jug was always filled with water, ever fresh and cool within its thick, clay walls.

A clean, wooden sipping ladle, soft to hold and handle, tied to a braided rope of gem-colored ribbons, always hung about the shiny brass spigot found one-third the way up the vessel, at a height for all to reach.

Below this, sat a large stone trough which caught each precious drop, and where all the town’s creatures came to sit and sip.

No one ever dared lay claim to be the one who filled the giant jar, for all knew that to keep it thus meant miles of travel and toting to and from the nearest well.

“Such a blessing, indeed,” they would remark to each other as they drew from the tap, “to have such a friend – or friends – as these!”

Some curious folk tried, here and there, to lift the jug to see if its source was perhaps not a person, but a spring, or pipe.

But the jug wouldn’t budge.

And, once more, attentions would turn elsewhere – away from the shiny, earthen jar that watered their gardens and helped make their broth; cleansed and nourished them. 

Its mysterious origin would fever the imaginations of the town’s newcomers, but soon, without much thought, they’d take from its bounty as one takes a breath.

The years passed.

The town got bigger.

And the jug continued to give… as best it could.

No one noticed when the braided silk ribbon holding the ladle frayed and finally fell, splitting the old, weatherbeaten wood scoop in two. 

The faded, unravelling rope blew away with the winds, and the ladle pieces were soon buried in the dirt kicked up by another, and another, and another at the spigot.

So it should come as no surprise that no one noticed the first crack – a hairline near the top by the lid (now missing its knob). Or the second, at its base in the back.

And how could anyone have known without ever lifting the high, heavy lid (long devoid of its handle) that the jug was now only able to half-way fill?

More years passed and more people came to settle near and depend upon the water jug in the corner of the old plaza, not paying much mind that the spigot was getting harder to turn and the water came in troubled spurts.

Because came it did, so on they went with their lives.

While the cracks in the vessel grew long, and dark, and moist.

One afternoon, a respected elder from the town (a sweet and gentle fellow with a crooked grin and wicked humor), sat upon the old stone trough, scratching a scraggly, stray dog behind its ears, filling his modest kettle, when he felt a drop on his head.

He looked hopefully to the sky, but saw not a cloud. When down came another.

Wiping the tear-sized drip from his eye, he stood atop the trough for a closer look, and there discovered the crack, now beginning to seep.

His old heart raced, as he began a thorough examination of the giant earthen jug, discovering dangerous weaknesses everywhere, as well as, its sad state of neglect from top to bottom, and all around.

“What has happened to thee, Old Friend?” sighed the elder as he grabbed his kettle and turned toward home, laden with dark thoughts of how the town would fare without it.

Early the next morning, with the sky barely lightened, the old man was already at the water jug with his bucket, trowel, and cement.

After mixing a small batch, he began the patchwork at the bottom and worked his way up.

At first, no one in the town took much notice, but the old man didn’t mind. He was enjoying the work. He felt useful, helpful – important for the first time in years.

But his work came to a halt as he struggled for some time to reach some of the biggest cracks at the top of the great jug.

“May I?” a tall lady with bright blue hair finally asked, setting down her cats and picking up the trowel.

Before long, other folk began to gather at the water jug in the corner of the old town plaza, bringing brushes and brass polish, flower pots and benches – even a new knob for its lid.

It was when the lid was lifted for repair by two of the town’s strongest, that the water was discovered to be a scant distance from dropping below the spigot, turning the spontaneous, happy gathering into a very different moment.

Folks instantly began pointing fingers at each other for taking more than their share.

Everyone finding blame everywhere but home.

All the while, the elder, who sat carving on the giant, bent trunk of an enormous Cottonwood remained silent…

… until he wasn’t anymore.

“It seems to me,” he said a little louder each time, until by the forth, his old, lungs had completely filled, “IT SEEMS TO ME!…”

Someone in the crowd finally noticed and a slow hush came over the townsfolk.

“It seems to me,” repeated the elder, as he very slowly and deliberately closed his knife, took up the newly carved ladle, shoved it in his pocket, and shuffled toward the jar, “that each and every one of us has benefitted from what this precious jug has given.”

Nary a sole could disagree, but what could they do? What power had they over its mysterious bounty? 

“Each of us has to give,” said the old man sternly, “for this vessel needs filling. Give what you can, if only a drop. Give what you must, for the cracking to stop. Give what you will for the water to rise. For the jug to replenish. For the jar to provide.”

But the townsfolk felt they had done quite enough with the mending and the flowers, and the paint, and stuff, so off they went, back to their shops and their homes and their lives, having convinced themselves that the jug would continue to supply what they needed.

The next morning, the town’s Postmaster went to the jar to soak her stamp sponge and turned the handle of the spigot to find not a single… droplet… dropped.

She turned the handle harder.

Still nothing.

She got down on her hands and knees and crouching under the old, brass faucet, stuck her long, thin finger up the pipe with the hopes of dislodging the obvious offender.

The scene couldn’t help but attract attention from the folks going about their business in the plaza, and in just a few minutes a small crowd was once again gathered at the giant water jug.

The Postmaster rose with what dignity she could, and without bothering to wipe the dirt from her hands or knees, said to the many familiar faces before her: “Nothing.”

The crowd refused to believe her and grabbing the nearest ladder, the two same strongest once again climbed to its top, removed its lid, and looked within.

There was water.

The crowd collectively exhaled.

“But only at the very bottom of the jug!” heralded the powerful duo from above.

Panic began simmering. 

The greedy began plotting. 

And the air became electrified with fear.

Now the elder, who had been calmly watching the scene from the very same spot as the day before, shuffled toward the center of the crowd, which quieted quickly.

“Give what you can, if only a drop,” he repeated from the day before. “Give what you must, for the cracking to stop. Give what you will, for the water to rise. For the jug to replenish. For the jar to provide.”

“Go to your homes and go to your hearts,” he said looking into each and every set of eyes that would meet his gaze. “Fill your cups, your buckets, your glasses, your tubs. For it’s time to give back to this watering jug.”

The crowd hesitated at first, scratching their heads, milling about, kicking at the dirt and the dust, which caused a small group nearby to begin coughing.  A young man, seeing his mother having more and more trouble breathing, ran to the jug, and with no thought but of that very moment, cupped his hand and turned the spigot.

The crowd moved toward the jar with a great thirst.

But, as the Postmaster had stated previously, the water jug had nothing left to give.

Coughing gave way to sighs amid the silence.

“Give what you can,” whispered the elder as he wandered through the crowd, placing his hands gently upon the shoulders of his friends, neighbors and kin, “if only a drop. Give what you must, for the cracking to stop. Give what you will, for the water to rise. For the jug to replenish. For the jar to provide.”

And with that the crowd scattered about and slowly filtered back – some with only thimblefuls, while others brought great, overflowing basins and bowls; while still others disappeared from the town completely.

And one by one, each offering was poured into the old, patched jug, eventually filling it to its brim.

With the heavy lid placed back on top, the remaining townsfolk watched as the elder pulled from his pocket a beautiful new rope made of gem-colored ribbons, now tied to the newly carved ladle. Stepping to the shiny, brass spigot, his swollen, old hand turned the handle with ease, and he filled the large scoop with water. 

Facing the crowd with his grand and crooked grin, he took a refreshing gulp and passed it to the person closest him, and on it went. And as the ladle, soft to handle and hold, was passed to young and old, rich and poor, newcomers and natives, it continued to fill with cool, clear water for the next and the next and the next. 

Until all in the town had sipped from it and then, without a word, quietly returned to their homes.

… Now one would have thought the story ended here – that the townspeople had learned their lesson and the water jug would be tended to from then on.

But folks, such as the elder, passed away or moved on, and newcomers settled in around the great, brown and green mottled water jug in the corner of the old plaza, having never heard the cautionary tale.

And those who were there, as most tend to do, forgot.

So the cracks reappeared and the water level dropped.

Until one kind soul felt a teardrop on their head…

and looked up.