Once upon a time there lived a young girl named Millie. Millie lived in a little village, where everybody loved each other and everyone seemed happy except for one problem: they were a long way from the river. Every day, most of the villagers had to walk a long trail down a cliff to fill up their buckets so they could have water to cook, bathe and wash dishes.
Every day for years Millie walked this trail several times, carrying a bucket of water for her mother, then her sister, sometimes for other neighbors, then finally one for herself. It was a lot of work, but Millie was happy. Everyone thanked her every day and she felt like the most loved person in the village.
At the edge of town, there was a wealthy man named Bob who everyone hated. Every day Millie heard people making fun of Bob’s laziness and yelling about how he never helps anyone carry water from the river.
“How could he be so selfish?” Millie asked herself one day after hearing a story about how Bob had yelled at an old woman who was in his way instead of helping her carry her bucket of water. So Millie marched right up to Bob’s house and asked him, “Why are you like this? Why do you never help us carry water?”
“Everyone hates me,” Bob replied. “They laugh at me and call me stupid. They say my idea will never work. They say I’m a worthless dreamer.”
“What’s your idea?” Millie asked, still suspicious.
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I call it ‘indoor plumbing'” Bob said. “It’s something I think can make it so no one will ever have to walk to the river for water again. We can have water flow right into our home and get it at the flick of a switch.”
As Bob continued explaining how his idea worked, Millie’s face turned hot as she held back laughter.
“I knew you wouldn’t get it it,” Bob said. “No one gets it.”
A few days later, as Millie was carrying her third bucket of water from the river, she realized it felt heavier than it had before. She tripped on the path up the cliff and nearly fell off the edge. Her bucket tipped and all her water spilled. As she sat on the edge of the trail feeling sorry about her situation, she thought of Bob and his lunatic dream of running water in everyone’s homes. What if it could work? What if there was even a small chance this could work? Wouldn’t it be worth it to at least try?
So Millie walked to Bob’s house, knocked on the door, and said, “Show me. Show me how this works. Let me help.”
So Bob showed her his collection of pipes and his water pressure experiments and Millie started to learn how it all worked. She became fascinated, and the next day she came back to help with his tests.
As the days blended together, Millie started to see Bob’s vision take shape as they succeeded at larger and larger tests. Some days she would get so enthralled that she would forget to eat, or bring water to her family.
Millie started talking about their creation with the other villagers and she was met with mostly rolling eyes and laughter. “It will never work,” they said. “Stop wasting your time and pick up a bucket!”
As the days went on, the villagers became more and more angry with Millie, glaring and sneering at her as she passed them on the trail. Her mother and sister would shake their head at her and say, “I don’t understand why you’re wasting your time hanging out with that awful, selfish, lazy man.”
But Millie had seen it working in small tests and knew Bob’s idea could be scaled up. She had seen it herself. And the vision remained in Millie’s head. All the villagers could have water flowing from faucets right in their homes. It would save every family a thousand hours of walking every year! People could bathe every day instead of once a week!
Why couldn’t anyone else see the possibilities?
So Millie went to Bob and convinced him they should double their efforts and jump straight to a full-scale demonstration.
They worked day and night for months, often skipping meals, and often–quite ironically–going weeks without bathing. Sometimes they had disagreements and would scream at each other. Sometimes they had to travel for days to neighboring towns to pick up supplies. They missed nearly all the local festivals. Sometimes they had setbacks. They made mistakes. Sometimes they cut themselves and bled all over each other. Bob worried every night about running out of money. They had failure after failure but they learned something from each one and they moved on.
And it wasn’t miserable. In fact, Millie was shocked just how satisfied she felt most days despite her aching bones.
Their setbacks added up. The months turned into years. The villagers became more and more resentful, but Bob and Millie became more and more determined and confident. Every day they worked and every day they got a little closer to their dream…
Until finally they were all done and ready to turn it on for the first time. They hugged each other in their excitement before Millie turned the faucet for the first time.
They jumped and cheered with joy as the water poured from the spout. Then they filled the tub and took a glorious bath.
Now that she was all clean and fresh, Millie ran into the village to tell everyone what they had accomplished. “Come and see what we did! It worked! It worked! Your house can be next!” And Millie invited everyone to Bob’s house to see the running water.
An hour later Millie and Bob sat waiting for the villagers, shaking with glee at how this was going to change everyone’s lives.
But when the villagers arrived they did not have the same attitude. They carried torches, pitchforks and signs proclaiming “eat the rich!”. They screamed at Millie and Bob, things like “you water-hoarding monsters!” and “pick up a bucket!”
“You can all have indoor plumbing too if we just work together!” Millie shouted.
“In the meantime you can fill your buckets at my house!” Bob added.
But the villagers were screaming so loud they did not hear Millie and Bob. They shouted words like “selfish”, “elite”, and “privilaged”. “How dare you mock us with your pointless extravagence!” they shouted. “You need to worry about the problems down by the river before building self-serving luxuries. Stop worrying about the future. The future doesn’t exist. We care about right now and right now we demand you help carry water from the river!”
Then the villagers started chanting for the guillotine and Millie and Bob got so scared that they ran back inside and boarded up all the windows and doors.
The villagers chanted for Millie and Bob’s heads until almost midnight, but went home because most of them had to get up in the morning to carry buckets of water.
And Millie realized she had become the most hated person in town, all because she believed in a vision for a better tomorrow.
The next day Millie cautiously opened the door and looked around to see the mess the mob had made the previous night. As she stepped outside, she was startled to see a little girl standing to the side of the house, holding an empty bucket. She looked up pleadingly, “Please, please, I beg you. I am too scared to walk down the cliff path after my papa fell and broke his back. May I fill my bucket here?”
“Of course!” Millie said, and invited the little girl inside. The girl marvelled in amazement at the flowing water and the tap that could shut it on and off.
“Why does everyone hate you?” she asked as she left with a full bucket of water.
“I don’t know,” Millie replied.
“Do you think we could ever have indoor plumbing at my house?” she asked. “My daddy can’t carry water no more since he hurt his back.”
“Yes. I do,” Millie replied. “Bring some friends who can help out and work hard, and we can make it happen.”
As time went on, more and more of the children got their water from Bob’s house, saving them twenty minutes and a dangerous walk down the cliff trail. Many of the adults still didn’t believe indoor plumbing was real. They thought Millie and Bob were secretly carrying buckets up from the river to give to the children. Others lied about how it worked, how much it cost and who was paying for it. Still others claimed it was an abomination against nature.
But a few of the villagers were excited, and even more were interested, and through the hard labor of a small handful of people, one by one, they installed their invention into each house, and slowly the hugs and exclamations of gratitude began to drown out the hate, as Bob and Millie’s vision of running water in every household started to become a reality.
One day Bob passed away. Many years of hard work and the stress and fear of being attacked by his fellow villagers had taken its toll on his heart and led him to an early grave.
But many people came to his funeral to honor him and the few remaining haters stayed silent. The next day, even more villagers showed up to help install pipes. Millie took the lead on the project and continued in Bob’s name until every last house in the village had a sink and a toilet and a bathtub.
And after the last house received its network of pipes, the village threw a celebration for Millie.
“You taught me something,” the mayor said in his speech. “Sometimes we have to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. You have to see your ideas through, even when no one believes in you. You have to think big. And next time I see someone with a vision I think is stupid, maybe I’ll remember to pause and learn about it before dismissing it.” He chuckled. “But I believed in you the whole time.”
“Yes, yes, we all believed in you the whole time!” the villagers proclaimed.
Millie rolled her eyes and shook her head but sat down to indulge in the feast, feeling once again, like the most loved person in the village.
And the celebration lasted well into the morning because no one had to get up and carry water the next day.
As Millie walked home she looked at her wrinkled hands and realized how old she had become. She had spent her whole life building this dream off someone else’s outlandish idea. Now it was finally over and she could retire.
She got home, took off her clothes, drew a bath and thought about how much easier it would have been simply to have continued carrying those buckets of water. So much less work, less stress, less hate, fewer arguments, fewer nights wondering if she would be murdered. She could have had time for relationships. She could have felt loved during her best years. She asked herself if it was all worth it.
But as she slipped into her warm bath, thinking of all the other villagers currently doing the same thing, and how their children would be able to do this for years to come, she realized that yes, without a doubt it was all worth it.