You know those early days of a relationship where everything’s still “adorable”? Then comes the day you learn something about the new object of your affection that still falls into the adorable category, but it’s combined somehow with a behavior that’s a little…not quite off-putting, just disconcerting? You’re not sure how to deal with it. Let it go? Bring it up as a joke? (“Hey, I had no idea you and your parents still wear matching outfits. Cute.”) Well, here’s mine.
My husband who was once my boyfriend loves to talk about the news. And not just the big stuff, I mean the stories that get buried on page seven. The question “Did you see that story…?” became a hallmark of our early relationship because usually I hadn’t. I scanned a headline, swigged coffee and then headed for the subway. I knew who was running for president, but not much more. (It became a point of contention after a while, actually. Him: “Did you see–?” Me: “Stop yourself. Probably not.” Him: [Eye roll]. I’ve since changed my ways, just as he will concede that a meal can be meatless and still count as sustenance.)
He’s a chatty bugger, my husband, so regardless of whether I’d seen the story or not, he’d go on to tell it. Invariably, when he’d do the dishes after dinner he’d stand at the sink and keep right on talking. Then he’d get to a story that really frosted him or that he felt required a little more explanation and for some reason, he’d walk away from the sink to tell it. Hands dripping, soap suds dropping on the floor, water running. Let me make this clear, he wasn’t stepping away to make one quick point. He was stepping away as if he forgot what he’d just been doing. I half expected him to wander into the living room and sit down.
It was weirdly endearing, his getting lost in a topic, but it was also awkward. There he was, chatting away, gesturing wildly, making his point, and there I was, staring at the faucet.
“You’re not listening.”
“Sure I am. It’s just…”
“The water’s running.”
“I know that.”
And here’s the awkward part, because what I wanted to say was, “Well, turn it the hell off, or stop talking for five minutes.” But we were in the throes of something, you know, real. True. Lasting. So what I probably said was, “But…it’s going away.” Which probably led him to say, “What’s going away?” At which point I would think, but not say: The water, you damn fool. The gallons and gallons of unused water you’ve turned your back on to tell me a joke about Newt Gingrinch. At some point, I did say something like that, but not back then. We’ve come to a compromise since then. I now pay attention to what’s going on in the world on a daily basis, and he tries really hard to tell stories and scrub pots at the same time.
Years later, I met a woman who told me a story about watching her college roommate dump out the water in their teapot and refill it. The woman telling the story came from a country (can’t remember where now) where water was scarce, and not particularly clean. When she mentioned to her roommate that she could have boiled the water in the teapot again, the roommate shot back that she was in America now, they didn’t need to do that. What stayed with me from that story wasn’t that this woman knows what it’s like to worry about her water supply, but the response from her roommate. I walked away from that story wondering how much I take for granted: the water from my tap, the fact that my lights go on and stay on until I turn them off, the garbage trucks that are outside my house right now.
More recently, I’ve landed myself among a group of people who think about water all the time. They think about it in a lot of different ways: development, taxes, agriculture. What it means when you find a Tiger Spike Tail Dragonfly. What you can learn from the size of a trout. Hanging around with them, I learned about stuff like watersheds and headwaters and that there are a whole lot of people out there working on all the issues that surround the gallons of water my then-boyfriend let wash down the drain.
It’s too much to keep track of, frankly, and I’m not sure anyone expects the average person to pay that much attention, but we could pay more attention. We could take a minute to be amazed that in the U.S. we can pull a lever and water comes out. A lot of water. Mostly clean water, too, but it could be better. Then we could wonder, just for a second, what it takes to get that, where it begins and ends, and what it would take to make that stop. It’s not much. It’s also not much of an effort to get a little information on it, so you know when to pay closer attention. If nothing else, pay attention to what might affect you, since it probably affects many thousands of other people, too.
Do something for me, check out the page for Blog Action Day 2010 and read at least one other blog from someplace far away from where you live. Put yourself there for a few minutes and think of this: it’s all the same water. Some of us have it, others don’t. Some of us don’t think about it much, others are forced to think about it every day. Those of you reading this who don’t need to think about it on a daily basis, put yourself in the shoes of someone who does, even for a few minutes. Then go turn on the tap and see what comes out.