On a beautiful late October afternoon, I visited Ein Karem, Israel. It was one of those perfect autumn days—sunny, no jacket needed, but with the hint of cooler temperatures. My friends and I walked through the hilly ancient town in the suburbs of Jerusalem exploring and talking about all that this town has seen–from the biblical story of the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth to the burning of ancient olive groves as Palestinian farmers were displaced, to a quaint and thriving artist’s colony. After visiting the Church of the Visitation and enjoying a delicious Israeli lunch, we walked up a hill to a small convent.
As we wandered the gardens, looking at the valleys and terraced hills surrounding the town, we stopped at an ancient cistern built hundreds of years before. My new friend Eli, a native of Jerusalem, talked about these cisterns, still scattered throughout the region. When families and communities would move and settle a village, the first order of business was to build a cistern. Some were for family use and looked like a large planter pot, but the particular one by which we were standing was large, reminding me of a small swimming pool, and would have been for community use.
Cisterns gather rainwater, not only for daily cooking and cleaning, but also for the inevitable times of drought. The large basins would keep crops alive, livestock quenched, and families with the necessary water to continue daily chores. It took planning and preparation to build the cistern—let the rains slowly gather in it, use the water enough to keep it from growing murky, and still ration some for the heat of summer. As I observe the history around me, I wonder if farmers just wanted to get on with the business of planting olive groves and depend solely on rainfall to keep them nourished. Building something for a non-rainy day takes time and energy that can be placed in a more tangible practice.
I’ve always viewed my world more as a series of well-planned lessons rather than a winding adventure. I’d like to blame my training as an elementary teacher, but this way of compartmentalizing ages and experiences has always been part of my nature. Cognitively, I know that life doesn’t work this way, but hope springs eternal as I try to map past and future experiences and expectations.
I’ve been home for months now and that cistern has stayed with me. My youngest starts full-day kindergarten next year and I’ve gotten the range of questions and observations about how I’ll spend all of my free time. Our family is approaching a time of transition, regardless of how my personal days will look. It will be a change having both of my girls in the same place and on the same schedule for most of the day.
What I’m remembering is that now is not necessarily the time to plant the trees or look forward to the harvest. Now is the time to focus on the cistern.
What am I constructing for this next season that will sustain us through the transition?
What practices are we putting in place as a family that will see us through both abundance and drought?
As my children move through the world of elementary school, I see how I give up more of my ability to manage their content, and I rely on those foundations and cisterns to nourish us. I think learning these lessons is good for any time, regardless of transitional phase. But I also want to be intentional with the coming months, to remember that transitions take time and energy in ways that are unpredictable.
In some ways, the cistern affirmed my way of thinking in lessons and plans and strategies. Really, it’s a reminder to step back. Sometimes I need to do the work that doesn’t seem as pressing but will be lifesaving down the road. As we walked away from that convent, I reflected on the fact that these cisterns are still here, centuries later. Many of the original olive groves have died off or been burned, but these cisterns are still here, gathering water and nourishing communities, if only symbolically.
What are lessons and rhythms that will remain in our family years from now? I see some things changing because of season or need, but others are weaving their way into the foundations of our life. What will my daughter’s children see when they dip into the cisterns my grandparents started years before? Now more than ever, I’m taking time to notice the ways we build and maintain our family’s cistern, knowing that we have the opportunity to fill it well.
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Annie Rim lives in Colorado with her husband, two young daughters, and a feisty dog. An educator, she has taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now focuses her attention in the playroom. She teaches English to immigrant and refugee families at her daughter’s school, facilitates a book club for SheLoves Magazine to bring readers into the intersection of faith and social justice, and spends her pockets of free time writing and reading.