Islands

Every year, a little bit more of their island disappeared into the sea. Maybe the foundations sank away. Maybe the water level rose. They did not seek the cause. They saw only the consequences: what they had long called home shrank and dwindled with the passage of time.

Their children said, “We are scared. The island gets smaller and smaller. Soon, we will have no place to live. Soon we will have to turn into fish to survive. We will have to swim all day long.”

They said, “Do not be afraid. This is our home. If we stay here, we will be safe.”

Their children did not believe them, not all the way, but because they spoke so confidently of safety, their children stayed.

The island grew smaller. They and their children crowded together, moving their homes closer and closer until they had but inches in between them.

Their children said, “We have no place to run an play. The island is so small now that, look, we can touch our neighbors through the window! There is no outside but the sea.”

They said, “Everything will be alright. This is our home. We cannot abandon it.”

They said, “We have a solution! Watch, children. We will make things well again.”

So they built. Out from their home, out from what little land they had left, they built piers and walkways that floated upon the waters. Now they had a place to sit. “Now,” they told their children, “You have a place to play. We have built it for you.”

“But this is not as sturdy as dry land,” the children said. “Look how it shifts and drifts with each wave.” The children pointed into the distance, where another island stood tall and strong above the sea. “Look! Can’t we go there? That island has not sunk below the water.”

“No!” they answered, fierce in their reply. “This is our home! How could we ever leave it? We owe our lives to it.”

“We could have a new home,” the children said. “That island could be our home as much as this one. Look, it has trees and sand, and earth for farming.”

“We have built a sturdy foundation here,” they said, even as the motion of the waters shifted what they had built beneath their feet. “We have everything we need. We have each other, and our community. We have what has always been our home.”

Their children said, “We have these things, yes. This has always been your home. We understand. We don’t ask you to forget it. We only wish to go somewhere better.”

“Nothing is better than here,” they said. The last vestiges of their island sank beneath the waters. Only by standing knee-deep, with the waves swelling up to their waists, could they feel the solidity of what was once their home. “Look at all we have built here. There is nothing on that other island. We would be leaving behind everything we have made.”

They continued to add to what they had once built, though now their old homes, with their foundations rooted in the sunken rock of the island, had filled with fish and salted water. Their unsteady construction bobbed on the shifting waters, worrying their balance and dislodging their meals from their tables.

“We must leave,” their children said. “We can’t live this way forever.”

“We can,” they insisted. “We can! We must continue to build.”

“What will you use to build?” their children ask. “You have used our wood. The ground where the trees once grew is underwater.”

They had no answer.

“We are going to build a boat,” their children said.

“We are going to stay here,” they said. “This is our home.”

“We are going to build a boat,” their children repeated, “and find a new home on the island that is not sinking.”

Their children pulled wooden boards from what had been built, from the homes that had long been submerged. They cried and resisted, so their children worked in the dark of night while they slept. Their children built a boat large enough for all.

Yet, in the morning, when the time came to set sail, they would not board the vessel.

“We must stay here,” they said in chorus. “We must stay. This is our home. It is ours.”

“We can’t stay here,” their children said. “This isn’t our home any longer. It is gone beneath the waves.” All that remained was the crumbling facade of what they had tried to build.

“This is our home,” they chanted. “This is our home.”

So their children, with their eyes on the island that hadn’t sunk beneath the vastness of the sea, sailed away.

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