Day ten. Today is our tenth without hot water. My wife was taking a shower when suddenly the water went cold. We’re thankful her shower coincided with the rupture of our water heater’s tank because I was able to grab my shop vacuum, which sucked up the water from our basement floor before damage was done, and to shut off the water lines in and out of the now useless heating tank, throw the breaker, and call for a repair.
Having no hot water flowing from our faucets is what we now call a First World problem. Millions of earth’s people would be moved to tears of wonder and joy if they could only turn a spigot and have potable cold water flow into their dwellings. For them, hot water would be a luxury beyond belief. Girls walk miles to fill jugs with questionable water which they then carry miles back home on their heads. Water, cold or hot, from a faucet in the home would probably seem to them paradisiacal.
Day ten of taking baths not showers. Day ten of heating water on our kitchen stove to carry upstairs to the bathtub and of washing our hair in a sink (in mid July when cold water doesn’t feel bad). We know how to cope easily with this First World inconvenience. For two decades worth of summers we vacationed happily in our friends’ cabin in the Pocono Mountains without running water on site. All I had to do was load the back of our car with empty five-gallon jugs, fill them at one of the state park’s faucets, and bring them back. Not on my head.
Yes, we had to heat cold water for bathing, washing dishes, and cleaning, but the cabin had an electric stove, a decidedly modern convenience. It also featured an outhouse, but that’s another story.
Why in this hyper-convenient First World of ours is it taking more than ten days to get a new water heater? I have no verified answer but will share my suspicions. We don’t want an electric water heater and have no natural gas. We want a replacement oil-fired water heater, but they, we are told, are obsolescent, and the manufacturer may have been reduced to making them only for orders already received. My guess is that the electric water heaters are made somewhere that provides cheap labor, and they may well be short-lived. One of our neighbors has told me that he has had to buy four electric water heaters so far since buying his home. Cheap labor plus shorter product life would equal greater profits for a few.
Day ten of our minor inconvenience. Of course it will be nice once again to have hot water flow from our faucets, nice to be able to use the dishwasher, nice to return to taking showers rather than shallow baths. But maybe, just maybe, we need to stop and think about that phrase, “First World problem” and the contrasts it represents in human lives. To be more thankful for what we have? No, that’s not good enough. Being happily and contentedly thankful for having more (much more) than most of earth’s people seems a questionable state of mind and spirit. We need to expand our circles of concern. Inconvenience is not deprivation. Neither is the thankfulness of privilege the same as empathy that drives discontent with systems that keep many people truly deprived for the benefit of relatively few.
Maybe in two more days hot water will again flow through the faucets in our house. It will feel pleasant to take a shower, although I may be moved to keep it even shorter than before, now that I have seen a pie chart showing how much potable water the average American family uses and how large a percentage of it goes down our drains during our showers.
And girls will still walk miles with heavy water jugs on their heads. And the water in those jugs will still be something I wouldn’t drink.