Do you remember when Lake Meredith almost dried up? After years of drought, the lake that had once been a popular fishing spot for decades was becoming a desert––as the water disappeared, so did the fish. My kids and I ran around on the dry sand that used to be the lakebed, stepping around the dead fish that littered the ground. Our dog seemed to think it was Christmas, but it was bittersweet for me and kids.
As we drove home that evening, the kids and dog were worn out and sleeping hard in the back, and the smell of the dying lake was fresh in my mind. Being a local, I knew exactly why our lake was disappearing and I knew there wasn’t much I could do about it. Anyone could see the impact of the problem and the implications on the future, but fixing it seemed far out of our control. And the same thing that happened with the lake is the same thing I had seen throughout years of working in impoverished communities. Everyone sees the problems, the impact, the implications, but no one seems to find the right solution.
The approach most of us take is something like this: As the water recedes, the fish flounder on the dry shore. We see the fish flopping about and decide to do something. The immediate need is to get the fish back in the water. Since they can’t go back into the dying lake, people gather around and start gathering fish up and putting them in fishbowls or buckets, or whatever they can find. This saves some fish, but as the water keeps dropping, more fish need to be rescued, so more people come to help and before you know it, programs and organizations form to be more effective at saving the fish. Meanwhile, the lake keeps disappearing and more fish keep dying.
Looking at this one way, it might seem like either a noble, civic duty, or an exercise in futility. One thing people will see is that the problem isn’t going away and, no matter how many fish are saved and how many resources are poured into the effort, the fundamental issue hasn’t changed––the lake is still drying up. The thing is, the folks running around saving all the fish see this too. Unfortunately, most of them are too busy saving fish to do anything about it. It’s not that they don’t want to or even that they don’t have solutions, it’s just that they don’t have enough time, energy, or resources to do it all. They know the lake has to get filled for the problem to be fixed, but getting it done is just too much. After a while it just gets to be too much for many great people and they just give up. The frustration, the time spent, the emotional toll gets to be too much and they back away, burned out and jaded. We’ve been there. Through years of working hard to get fish “back in the water,” we know the joy and the frustration that this calling brings. Through it all we see solutions, but they seem too far away from the reality of the day-to-day work.
Thinking about fish in a dried up lakebed should remind us, though, that while we must take care of the immediate needs, somebody still has to find a solution. That’s where Square Mile Community Development comes in. The whole point of Square Mile is to find solutions for struggling neighborhoods and work with others to bring them about, all while making sure that the people living there don’t fall through the cracks. It’s ambitious and it’s a little crazy, but it’s necessary if our communities are going to thrive. We know we can’t do it all and that’s why we are partnering with great organizations, churches, businesses, and individuals who share this vision or are already working to make things better.
Somebody has to fill the lake. We believe that somebody is us.