Our Old Ways Don't Hold Water

Published July 14, 2015
There was an emergency in my apartment building the other day and the water was shut off. Some New Yorkers mind the rodents, some— the noise. I mind when my water is shut off. (Not that I’m fond of rodents or noise. See: On Writing and Distractions.) But having water taken away gives me anxiety. I think about all I can’t do: cook, laundry, shower. But mostly, it forces me to think about people in other countries who can’t turn a faucet to get water and have to walk for miles. It makes me pay attention to how much we depend on it and expect it to just flow freely, clean and clear, through the tap. It was disconcerting when, hours later, the water was turned back on in my building and chunks of mud came out of the showerhead. When I attempted to brush my teeth, the water ran brown, then blue. What does that even mean?  This got me conjuring up wild scenarios in my head, a world without water, a science fiction thriller. The next morning, I read an article in the New York Times, California’s Drought Changes Habits in the Kitchen. The article addressed how the drought is causing food shortages, higher prices and smaller crops. Lawmakers and citizens alike are making changes in order to conserve water. A new state rule prohibits waiters from serving water without a customer asking for it first. There is a $500.00 fine for breaking this regulation. Cooks are using the water they used to boil pasta to water their plants. They are baking and steaming vegetables instead of boiling them. The article resonated. It simply never occurred to me that I could, or should, reuse the water I boiled pasta in. But now that I’ve heard this idea, why wouldn’t I? I’ve written about our relationship to the earth before in Gratitude+Giving=Grace  and Earth Day 2015. And again, it's possible that no single small initiative by any individual is going to save the world or be overly important. But what seems essential is consciousness and a sense of responsibility. Think about it: We take water for granted. Like it’s always going to be there. But what if it’s not? This past weekend, I walked on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. As I left the boardwalk, I walked along a path around a lake where people jog and bike and walk to the main street. On the path, there was a five-gallon water bottle and cooler. Beside the cooler, on a chair, there were stacks of plastic cups and a garbage can where people could dispose of their used cups. Clearly this was not an environmentally sound setup but this is where we are now. The Age of the Water Bottle and it stood out like a mirage in the desert. Perched on top of the water bottle, was a sign, and on it was a Jewish prayer known as Shehakol. It is a blessing said before drinking water. So there I was tired, hot and thirsty and there was this offering, this water for me and everyone else who passed by. All the homeowner wanted in return was for those who drank the water to stop for a moment and express gratitude. There was something in the generosity, the thoughtfulness, coupled with my thirst that made that moment have deep meaning and as I recited the prayer, I felt sincere appreciation. Simultaneously, I felt a bit of anxiety as I stopped to reflect on how when I was a child, water was complimentary. I could drink from the tap without thought and play for hours, carefree, with a garden hose; and how presently we pay for water that we drink out of plastic bottles, how we pollute our drinking water and how  environmental issues like droughts are making water scarce in our own country. The five-gallon water bottle is a symbol of where we are now. The question is: Where are we going?
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