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Shanta Lee Gander prepares to speak in Montpelier.

Voices / Primary Sources

Our boiling water

Do we want to be changed by this moment? Or do we want to change this moment with our action?

Shanta Lee Gander, who spoke these words as a participant of the BIPOC-led Womxn and Femme Rally in Montpelier on Oct. 17, writes that she agreed to do so largely in response “to all the ways that these voices and bodies have been erased from the first wave of the feminist movement in the mid-19th century. These are the voices and bodies that were either in the back of the bus or not allowed on the bus.”


Story is one of the main ways I relate to the world, especially within the most difficult situations. One story that I encountered over 15 years ago relates to this moment, to the boiling water we find ourselves in now.

It is the parable of the carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean.

A young woman went to her mother and expressed how hard life had gotten. She was tired of fighting. Tired of struggling, and when one problem was solved, another thing appeared for her to tackle.

The young woman’s mother took her into the kitchen and filled three pots with water, setting them on the stove to boil. Without saying a word, the mother placed a carrot in one pot, an egg in a second pot, and a coffee bean in the third pot.

The mother let about 20 minutes go by and turned off the pots of water. As she placed each of these items in a bowl, the mother asked her daughter, “Tell me what you see?”

“A carrot, an egg, and coffee,” the daughter replied.

The mother asked her daughter to take a closer look.

This time, the daughter touched the carrot, noticing how soft it had gotten. She took the egg, noticing how the shell protected the hard boiled inside. The daughter took a sip of coffee.

The mother explained.

* * *

Each of these items faced the same adversity: the boiling water, she said. Each had a different reaction.

The carrots initially entered the boiling water unrelenting and hard, yet they softened in response.

The egg, having first entered fragile, was not changed by the water. Remaining protected by its shell, its inside became hard boiled.

The coffee beans were unique. They changed the water — not the other way around.

* * *

In thinking about this parable in relationship to this moment, in which we find ourselves in boiling water, what do we want to be?

Do we want to be changed by this moment?

Or do we want to tap into our power and change the moment with our whole being? Do we want to change this moment with our action?

I pose this question to our whole country at this moment.

For most of us who know history — even those of us who try to erase and suppress history — we know who the coffee beans were.

As a woman who carries Brown, Black, and Indigenous bones within my body, in this moment?

I am the coffee bean.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #584 (Wednesday, October 21, 2020). This story appeared on page C1.

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