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When the river burned

by Lisa Suhay 2 years ago in healing
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A social justice fable for healing after the riots

The most beautiful river in the world was changing. While it was never calm, it had reached a saturation point as toxic elements were continually thrown into it over a long period of time.

The waters of The Noir River flowed through the roots of Cypress trees that gave it a tea-colored tint. Thanks to the trees, the water in the soil became rich with tannins that seeped into the groundwater or drained into it from lakes and streams.

The Noir ran deeper than any other. On its back, it carried the hopes and fears of a nation.

There is an order and a hierarchy to streams and their flow. It is common for one stream to flow into another. The smaller of the two streams is a tributary of the larger stream.

As more and more tributaries join together a larger network is formed.

Of course, it’s well known that all streams long to join an ocean and be a part of the grand flow.

The Noir was no different from any other stream or tributary in wishing to be a part of the sea.

All of its life, the Noir River had tried with all of its might to flow to the sea. The weight of gravity had been its friend and helped it advance.

But time after time, no matter how much it had protested, the Powers That Be had sided with the branch of the Main Stream that wanted every part of the Noir dammed off and locked away.

“I hate the Noir,” murmured the part of the Main Stream that flowed down from the right bank, high up in the snowy mountains. “Water must be as clear as I am, not muddy.”

The high-minded waters had learned this way of thinking from the cold Right bank along which it flowed.

“You are my pride and joy,” the icy bank told it’s stream. “The Noir River thinks it’s better than you are. It’s a lie. You flow straight and true. Rivers bend. They do this because they are weak and inferior. Spread the word.”

The stream trickled these poisonous thoughts wherever it went.

Had the stream only murmured these thoughts to itself things might never have gotten to where they were on this day.

Unfortunately, the stream had met up with some rocks that turned it into rapids. The rapids were loud enough for all to hear.

As the waters churned and frothed at the mouth of the next river all creatures great and small could hear them. Other streams began to carry the toxic gasses that bubbled beneath the surface of the Right Bank and flowed far and wide.

“The Noir is dark and dangerous,” it spouted and frothed. “It must be dammed for our security.”

Some loyal beavers who lived by the Right Bank got together and felled trees and dammed the Noir. For centuries the Noir was held back, allowed only a trickle of progress.

The Noir was deep and resonant but it could not compete with the roar of the rapids. It could not overcome the barriers constantly renewed by the servants of the Right Bank.

As time wore on the sentiments of the cold streams washed over the dams and began to pile up. The Noir stopped rushing, slowed its striving, and began to settle.

Animals that waded into the waters of the cold bank came out feeling different. They carried the hate for the Noir on their skin. Others drank it in and carried it in flasks to sip on and refresh their anger and resentment.

Eventually, a pipeline was laid down from the Right Bank’s waters that irrigated the Main Stream and the toxic feelings saturated people who then took every opportunity to pollute the Noir.

The Noir was so choked with the weight of hatred and suffering abuse that it developed a film that spread all across its surface.

The Main Stream recognized the flammable slick that was oiling its way across the Noir and tried to warn its tributaries.

“Stop,” the Main Stream cried out. “There is only so much anyone body can sustain. You must remove the damn and let the Noir run free to fulfill its right to be one with the ocean.”

The Noir heaved and struggled beneath the weight of the toxic mass that was weighing on it. The river cried out to the Heavens, “Deliver me!”

At that moment an industrious beaver felled an enormous tree that stilled the voice of the Noir. A cheer rang out across the rapids and resonated in the bellies of all who had ever touched its waters.

The sound of the cheering was drowned out but the rumble of thunder from the Heavens.

Two eyes lit the sky and they opened and cast their gaze down upon the now stilled waters of the Noir.

When the Heavens found its voice the earth shook with the words, “Who has done this to my child?”

The Right Bank let out a cold, indifferent sigh. “It did it to itself,” it said. “Serves it right. And it’s not your child. We are your children.”

The sky went dark and then lit the world with its rage. A bolt of lightning streaked down and struck the Noir, igniting its surface and bringing it back to life.

“Because you cannot see the light I will give you a night in which water is made into fire and all barriers are burned away,” the Heavens bellowed.


The Noir lit the night from end to end.

“What is happening,” the great river cried. “Help me! I don’t want to be made of this.”

But even as it cried out the dam that had held it back began to evaporate in flames. The Noir felt itself begin to flow towards the sea for the first time in hundreds of years.

“Yes,” cried the Noir. “Free at last! Free at last!”

The celebration was cut short when it realized that it was picking up speed and still carrying the fire on its shoulders as it careened through towns where everything it touched burned.

“You see,” jeered the Right Bank and its waters. “Haven’t we always warned that the Noir is dangerous? This proves that we were right to keep it in check, dammed and tame.”

While the Noir was finally free it was not at all happy to see its beautiful, strong, nourishing waters transformed into a deadly firestorm.

“Help me,” it cried out. “I know it took fire to burn down the dam, but I can feel myself evaporating in this heat.”

The Heavens were silent for a long while as one town after another burned in the wake of the raging river of fire.

Then, the Noir knew what it must do in order to save itself and others. It stilled its waters and allowed the heat of the moment to evaporate and take it high up into the clouds to become one with the Heavens.

From this great height, the Spirit of the Noir could see the world on fire. It could see servants of the Right Bank forming bucket brigades, not to quench the fire, but to carry its own burning waters away to spread the fire and further ruin its good name.

“What is it you wish,” asked the voice of Heaven.

The Noir didn’t hesitate, “Purify me. Take away the rage and the pain. Send me back as rain to put out the fires. Let me reform and flow to the sea.”

“The Right Bank and it’s streams will never stop trying to dam you,” said the Heavens. “They will do all they can to slow you down.”

The Spirit of the Noir considered for a long moment.

“Let me rain down as a healing rain,” The Noir said at last.

And so it was that the great rains began. The river reformed.

“These waters you will become will have a special power when they are troubled,” the Heavens explained. “For the first to wad into these waters when stirred will be healed.”

The healing began with a song that the winds of change brought down.

Wade in the water

Wade in the water children

Wade in the water

We're gonna trouble the water

As time went on the song grew and changed. It became a hymn to tell people to wade into troubled waters and expect miracles to result.

Below is a video of Lisa Suhay performing a reading and giving the backstory on this new fable during the COVID-19 and rioting.


About the author

Lisa Suhay

Journalist, Op-Ed and children’s book author who has written for the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, NPR and The Virginian-Pilot. TEDx presenter on chess. YouTube Storytime Video playlist

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