The Waterwheel

Stay together, friends.

Don’t scatter and sleep.

Our friendship is made of being awake.

The waterwheel accepts water

and turns and gives it away weeping…

Stay here, quivering with each moment

like a drop of mercury.

–Rumi (Sufi mystic and poet who died in 1273)

This Rumi poem showed up in my “A Year with Rumi” Reader on March 20, 2020. On that day, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) confirmed more than 15,000 COVID-19 cases in the United States. Today, March 26, six days later, there are 68,440 total cases and 994 deaths in our country alone, and 23,199 deaths world-wide. It is impossible to comprehend the totality, the variety, the beauty of the lives these numbers represent.

Rumi’s images of the waterwheel and the mercury speak simply but powerfully to me. I am fascinated by waterwheels.  I can stand for long periods, as if in a trance, as one gathers up and empties water.  I’m not sure if I have ever seen a bead of mercury quivering, but since the image is so clear in my mind, I suspect I have. Rumi’s description of the circular motion of the water wheel speaks to me of receiving and losing, of taking up and letting go. The bead of mercury conjures the idea of endless energy, energy that never dies.  It’s how I like to think of each life – constantly transforming but never-ending energy – intrinsic to the energy that IS.

The Black-Eyed Peas, a rap band (whose lyrics, in general, are too “rough” for me) introduce their album “The Energy Never Dies,” with these lyrics:

Welcome to the END. Do not panic. There is nothing to fear.

Everything around you is changing. Nothing stays the same.

This version of myself is not permanent. Tomorrow I will be different.

The energy never dies. Energy cannot be destroyed or created.

It always is. And it always will be.

This is The END and the beginning.

Forever. Infinite. Welcome.

Strange as it may seem, I find these rap lyrics profoundly comforting.

In the Coronavirus pandemic, indeed, in all the moments of our lives, be they ones of tragedy or joy, is our challenge to receive, to accept what comes, as does the waterwheel? To hold every experience briefly, before it inevitably changes and flows on? We must necessarily let go, even if the letting go is done with weeping? Can we stay here, in each moment, all of us, quivering with the never-ending energy of life, as does a drop of mercury?  

Indeed, friends, our friendship is made of being awake. And we must, as Rumi counsels, stay together and stay awake. May we not scatter and sleep.  Not in this moment. Or the next, or the next…