Our well line broke this week. We live far from city water—or gas, or waste collection. We compost scraps, haul our own recycling, burn paper instead of flushing it to some unknown but surely polluted location. The issue coincided with days of heavy rain, welcome in New Mexico but also saturating the ground and thus postponing repairs. We haven’t had running water since Tuesday, especially inconvenient as we planned to host beloved friends coming here to lead Yom Kippur services.
Every hour has brought a reminder of how dependent I am on the conveniences of modern life (even our boondocks version). My body turns on the tap over and over before my mind remembers that no water will be forthcoming. I think of the people in Puerto Rico suffering from the pernicious neglect of a government that purports to watch over them. Those with homes still standing, how often do their bodies flip a light switch before their minds turn to wondering how they will survive in cities and towns without electricity?
I wash my face with a cup of filtered water purchased from the supermarket and think of the writer from Tamil Nadu I once met at an international gathering. As waiters refilled our sparkling glasses from crystal pitchers, he pointed to the tumbler next to his plate and said, “This is how much water I wash in every day.” I think about the people in Flint, Michigan, the people standing with Standing Rock for the truth that water is life, the people on Dine lands here in the Southwest and in the developing world across the planet for whom clean water has become a luxury, a profit center for corporations, a memory of what has been lost.
I find myself worrying about how much longer we will have to wait for repairs to our well, how much they will cost, and then I think of the people in Houston—like those in New Orleans and New York before them—waiting for years, sometimes forever, to return to their homes.
Underneath all the logic and analysis, I am a superstitious person. I have a bunch of little habits—knocking wood, being careful not to step over someone lying on the floor, holding a piece of thread between my teeth if I must reattach a button to a garment I am wearing (that one insures you don’t sew up your brains, according to my grandmother)—that also live in my body, rituals my body performs before my mind even knows they are happening. It is very easy for me to interpret a setback as a punishment. The reactive voice resounding in my head speaks the words I have heard so many times from others coping with misfortune: “Why is this happening now? Why is this happening to me?”
My conscious mind does not for one moment believe that things like broken well lines, as with broken arms, are anything but random occurrences. I don’t for a second believe there is an Accountant in the sky meting out rewards and punishments. Experience has taught me that sometimes the evil prosper and the good suffer—and just as often, vice versa. Nevertheless, those kneejerk superstitions have become part of my body’s operating system. The challenge is to ignore or dismiss them instead of entertaining the illusion that they are voicing truth.
For a day or so after the water disappeared, though, it was a struggle. Here we are, right in the middle of the High Holidays, when I am inventorying my soul and actions and doing all I can to set right those places where I’ve missed the mark, when I am opening myself to whatever message comes to me before the gates which have opened to receive our prayers close at the end of Yom Kippur. The voice in my head kept asking me what I had done to deserve the disruption of my process of reorientation to what matters most.
And then the message came to me. This is the process. I was reminded to be grateful for what I have grown accustomed to receiving without conscious awareness, to notice and cherish the many gifts each day brings unbidden, and to allow compassion to flow in thought and action toward those whose ordinary reality has been ruptured not only by storms, but by the human actions that made their consequences so much worse.
There is a teaching that we should say 100 blessings each day. In the Jewish tradition, blessings are both mindfulness practice—stopping before you eat to acknowledge the Force that brings forth bread from the earth, rather than just wolfing down the food—and gratitude practice, offering thanks for the bounty of the world and our part in it. So the lesson I draw from our well is this blessing, one I hope for myself and for you: may we remain aware of what we receive and remember to be grateful, not falling into the illusion that comfort is our entitlement, but using our gifts to pursue the well-being of all.
“You Don’t Miss Your Water,” by Marva Wright.