A water main broke on our block one pretty Sunday afternoon. I remember it was a lovely day because I was enjoying a walk and, just before the last turn onto my street, I saw the water gushing out of the curb and pouring down the street. ‘That can’t be good,’ I thought. If I’d been in a novel, I would have been foreshadowing.
In order to fix it, the water company shut off our water. Which was fine except there was no warning of the eminent shut-off so that we could fill our tub, some buckets or anything else in the house we could find to hold extra water to get us through until everything was turned back on. We found out we’d lost the blessing that is running water when I went to our sink for some and, despite turning the knob on the sink, no water poured forth.
The next three to four hours were filled with constant reminders of how much we took for granted the convenience that is running water in our house.
For instance, the intent to wash my hands that first tipped me off to the lack of water problem. How were we going to wash our hands? With all the people that lived in our house and the sanitation needs that come with them – the diaper changes and messy eating and finger painting and bathroom visits and everything in the house being sticky – there is a lot of hand washing that goes on.
A more pressing water need than my own came to my attention when my husband rushed into the kitchen clothed only in a towel. Though he was covered in suds, he did not look like he was in a bubbly mood.
“What happened to the water?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied. “Maybe they’re working on that broken water main I told you I saw this morning.”
“It would have been nice if they’d given us some notice. Is there anything to rinse my hair with?”
“The dog water is the only standing water in the house unless you want to try and siphon it out of the back of the toilets.”
He pondered the options, but in the end, decided to endure being sudsy until the water came back on.
One by one the kids started to come into the kitchen with hands held aloft like surgeons waiting to scrub in and saying, “What happened to the water? I can’t wash my hands.”
“They’re working on the waterline, just use a baby wipe,” I told each of them.
“That doesn’t feel as clean,” came the reply from my second grader.
“I know,” I said. “We’ll just have to make due. We have no other choice.”
Without water, we couldn’t do our dishes, or, really, clean much of anything. We couldn’t boil noodles (which is one of the only five things my children will eat), we couldn’t wash up, we couldn’t bathe, we couldn’t flush the toilet, and we had no drinking water. In addition, there was now an Everest-sized mountain of wipes in the spot where the bathroom trash bin was located.
“This is the worst day ever,” my second grader announced.
It occurred to me that we were having a very inconvenient day but that this was every day for many people all over the world. Every day but that day, we had clean, drinkable water piped right to our house and we could even control the temperature with which it came out (except for that first few seconds of a shower). We didn’t have to collect water from a faraway water source every morning for our daily needs, heat water on a fire or stove to bathe, worry about whether or not the water would make us sick or empty our bed pans because we had no running toilet.
We discussed it as a family and decided to offer up the burdens of that day for people who bear those burdens every day. Putting things in perspective seemed to help and the mood in the house lifted a little as we all thought about how lucky we were to get to live in a house with running water. Except for Mr. Sudsy. He was eyeing a fire hydrant across the street that was spewing water at such a rate as to make short work of his need for a rinse. Thankfully, the water came back on before my husband decided to take the chance of getting himself arrested for finishing his shower out in public.
“I would have beaten the rap,” he insisted. “It would have been temporary insanity. Who turns off the water in the middle of a man’s shower?”
I’m happy to live in a place in which such questions need to be pondered.