I woke up yesterday morning and discovered water leaking from the upstairs bathroom into the kitchen pantry. Of course I was angry. Mike turned off the water to the toilet and the drip, drip, drip stopped but it took well over an hour to remove all of the sodden items from the shelves that were now damp. A few days before Thanksgiving is hardly the time for a plumbing emergency but we have become all too familiar with making desperate calls for help during this past year. Obviously we’ll have to bite the bullet and take the unwanted and untimely expense on the chin. I might not even be thought too selfish if I were to complain a bit and feel somewhat sorry for myself. After all everyone understands how aggravating such an experience can be.
God, in His infinite wisdom, often has a way of sending little messages to us and mine came almost immediately after I had discovered this latest inconvenience. I was driving to San Antonio to help my daughter as she undergoes a medical procedure today. I had tuned in to a program on the radio to keep myself alert. I found myself listening a station that was somewhat uncharacteristic for me. The host mentioned in passing that ten percent of the world’s people have no running water. What a stunning revelation that was! It caused me to pause momentarily in wallowing in the pity party that I was manufacturing in my mind. Here I was complaining because I have a problem in the system that brings clean water to multiple locations in my home and there are humans just like me who have no plumbing and the sanitation that it brings.
The guy on the radio went on to describe the financial conditions of so many places where the income is less than a dollar a day and the people do not enjoy even the most basic aspects of the modern world like we do. It suddenly occurred to me how much I take for granted in my life. I began to check off the things that I have that we often think are necessities but which are lacking in the world of so many people. Just having a substantial roof over my head is something that would be remarkable to some. Inside the sturdy walls of my home there are wondrous machines that provide cool air when it is hot and warmth when it is cold. My food, which is plentiful, is kept fresh inside not one but two refrigerators. I have a closet filled with a rainbow of colorful outfits that are needed mostly to tickle my fancy rather than to simply keep me clothed. I entertain myself with televisions, radios, game consoles, and books, lots and lots of books. I am able to reach out to friends and family in an instant with my phone. Everywhere that I glance I see wondrous things that I have accumulated. I have so much even while there are so many who have so little. I am appalled that I even dare to complain simply because I may have to adjust my spending habits to accommodate the cost of repairing my plumbing.
I thought of my own ancestors who lived right here in the United States. They literally evolved over time from living in houses that we might think of as hovels. My grandfather told us stories of his boyhood and how there was no glass in the windows of his home. Instead his grandmother nailed oilcloth over the openings whenever the freezing winter came. His source of water was the lake near his residence. His bathroom was the great outdoors. His grandmother washed their clothes with a washboard fashioned from rocks. This was how life was only about a hundred years ago right here in our country. Now such conditions are rare.
When I was a child we often visited my grandparents in Arkansas. Many of their neighbors existed without electricity or plumbing in their homes. My grandmother and grandfather were thought to be wealthy because they had an indoor bathroom and water flowing from a kitchen sink. It was only about sixty years ago that my grandparents were thought to be exceptional in having clean water inside their home while those that lived around them did not.
My mother was a proud woman who made her way alone for well over fifty years. Somehow she managed to piece her life together and overcome adversity again and again. She didn’t like to ask for help. In fact, she generally pushed away anyone who even suggested that they would like to pay for one of her needs. That is how it happened that she had major plumbing problems inside her home. The old pipes had to be replaced and she did not have the money to pay for such an expensive proposition. She learned how to manage the situation with buckets catching overflow and holding water to flush her toilet. Of course my brothers and I were appalled by her living conditions and eventually successfully talked her into abandoning her house and moving in with us on a rotating basis. We might have done the repairs while she was with us but for the fact that we really did not think that it was safe for her to be alone anymore. By insisting that she could not return until we had gathered enough savings to pay for the fix we were able to keep her in a safe environment for well over two years. Because she had so little, she readily assumed that we were in the same condition. She fell for our ruse and everyone was happy with the arrangement.
It has often occurred to me that there must be many citizens of our fair city who struggle much as my mother did. Sadly they may not have family members with the resources to help them. They live in squalor not because the wish to do so but because life has dealt them a series of blows that became overwhelming. My mother was a classic sociological case. She became a single parent at a time when women mostly stayed home with their children. She was young and she and my father had not yet built up their savings the way they might have if they had been given more time. The skills that she had to offer were minimal. She worked hard at jobs that paid very little and eventually earned a college degree by studying in the wee hours of the morning. She kept a tight reign on her budget but never really had enough income to do more than pay expenses and live from one paycheck to the next. She suffered a second even more severe blow when she developed bipolar disorder. After that there were periods of time during which she was unable to work. While her bosses were quite gallant in keeping her position open for her, she was unable to increase her salary the way she might have had her mind stayed intact. The result was that she lived dangerously on the edge just as many of our neighbors right here in our own country do. They are hardworking people who through no fault of their own are just one inch away from economic disaster.
We sometimes see the poor of the world through rose colored glasses. We stop for a moment to feel for them but we never truly understand their pain and their fears. Life is a relentless grind for them and they often become lost in a cycle of want that doesn’t allow them the luxury of dreaming for a better future. I suppose that is why I am unduly proud of my efforts to educate some of the most desperate among us. I learned a long time ago that knowledge really is power. That is not a trite saying but a truism that changes lives. It certainly made a difference in mine.
My brothers and I are the first generation in the history of our family to live really well. We lead lives that would have been the envy of those who came before us. We really have little about which to complain.
As I drove alone down I-10 toward my daughter’s home I reflected on these things and suddenly the prospect of a bill to keep the plumbing sound inside my house didn’t seem to be the terrible thing that it had only a few hours before. In this week of Thanksgiving I know that I am blessed beyond even the hopes and dreams of my grandparents. I live in a country where I am free to be me and where I was able to work at a job that I loved for a fair wage that provided me with a safe and secure life. I may not live in River Oaks or travel the world in a first class seat but I my life has been wondrous. I suppose that in a perverse way I am glad that the drizzle from my ceiling reminded me of that.