Thursday, June 28, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink

I've been a bit excessive lately. I've been trying to bring the qualities of simplicity and stewardship into my life, so perhaps I'm just noticing my little excesses a lot more. Or maybe my excesses have been obviously excessive.

OK, out with it. I went to Buca di Beppo for dinner. It's one of those family-style restaurants where huge piles of food cover every inch of your table. Where, after eating for hours, you can feel your internal organs bursting inside--but you take "just one more bite." Then you order dessert.

With my belly overly full, I wobbled outside the restaurant. I couldn't get the piles of food out of my mind. I wondered, How many starving children could have been fed resonable portions from the food on my table tonight? My not-quite-literal answer seemed to be: millions. But in actuality, I knew the food our party of 12 had consumed probably could have fed about a hundred kids.

I felt food guilt. Worse, I felt American guilt--the rotten feeling of being one of the "haves" who had needlessly overindulged, knowing full well billions of have-nots had gone hungry that night. My mind quickly turned to another excess earlier that week: I'd gone to a spa.

I'm not a spa girl. In fact, I'd previously never been to a spa. But my brother had given my mom, sister, and me gift certificates to the spa. So off we went.

What I remember most about the spa is that we took a lot of showers. We arrived and took a shower. Then we soaked in a Roman bath, followed by a shower. Hit the steam room, then another shower. Mineral bath, shower. Red clay mud treatment, and a very long shower to remove the dried clay. Back to the locker room for another shower to remove those last bits of mud. Sea kelp moisturizing treatment, then one last shower to rinse that goo off.

I usually take six showers a week, lasting about 10 minutes each. (Hopefully, my friends and family don't notice which day I skip!) In a single day at the spa, I'd done perhaps two weeks worth of showering.

We headed home feeling sparkly wonderful, but my mind kept drifting back to that shower. Gallons of water had poured straight down the drain. Gallons of good, pure, drinkable water.

I've long been concerned about water conservation and the lack of clean water around the world. It's partly because my dad pumped his kids full of "we were so poor stories" while we were growing up, such as, "We were so poor, we plugged the bathtub when we showered, then scooped up the collected water in a bucket to water our grass and plants." And partly because some science teacher once told me without water, any human being--even a plump American like myself--will die within three to four days. For that reason, my husband and I donated money to an international aid organization specifically to build a water pump a few years ago.

All to say, I did not like the thought of wasting water with needless showers. I didn't like it one bit.

I figure God wants me to think about conservation because I keep running into the topic. A couple days ago, I opened an issue of Newsweek magazine and there was an article on water quality and availability around the world. According to a chart which accompanied the article, the average American uses 573 liters of water per day. In Italy, it's 385 per person; in China, 87; and in Mozambique, just 10 liters.

Curious, I decided to compare my own water usage. From my most recent water bill, I discovered my husband and I used an average of 491 liters per day between the two of us--that's 246 liters each. When I discovered we use less than half the amount of your average American, I admittedly started to feel a little smug. Smug didn't last long. Further calculations revealed my water usage is nearly three times what the average person in China uses. And 25 times what the average person in Mozambique has available.

Humility further settled in when I recalled our water bill doesn't reflect the amount needed for plants or lawns since we live in an apartment. And we take our cars to a car wash. Hmm, that could account for a lot more water usage on our behalf. With my smugness gone, I started to consider: How can I personally conserve more water? I came up with three doable ideas:

1) Turn the shower off while I shave my legs. (I already turn the faucet off while I'm brushing my teeth. Good girl.)

2) Don't wash clothes until I have a full load. I'm pretty good about full loads when it comes to the dishwasher. But I sometimes can't resist washing a small load when I want to wear that blouse right now.

3) Fill the sink with warm, soapy water, then let dishes soak before they go into the dishwasher. I tend to leave dirty pots and pans out until after dinner, then scrub them for long periods of time under running hot water. No need to keep the water meter running!

But what difference will it make if I take these small steps? My water conservation probably won't cause a woman in Mozambique to have access to an extra liter of water. So I thought about the question a different way: What if I don't change anything about my current water usage? Quite simply, if I don't seek to change, that means I remain part of the problem, which is being someone who continuously takes and feels entitled to more.

I've been thinking about this verse: "And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will surely be rewarded" (Matthew 10:42, CEV). I'm starting to realize there are two sides to giving. There's the action of handing something of mine to someone else. But before I can do that, I first must decide to not keep the item for myself. Maybe a big part of giving to others is learning to take less for myself.

Think I'll shoot for more five minute showers.

To ponder:
1) What makes you feel excessive? When do you tend to overindulge?

2) Do you find it easy or difficult to give? What is the most difficult thing for you to give (ie. time, attention, resources, money, affection, encouragement)? What makes this difficult for you?

3) What are some ways we can practice simplicity and stewardship? Share your best tips for conserving energy, water, money, etc.

1 comment:

Brooke said...

I think the overall issue is the problem of over consumption aka, gluttony. It is amazing to me when I hear my mom’s stories of growing up in the rural mid-west during the great depression. They had so little with few means to buy much. They grew and produced most of their own food. They planted vegetable gardens, harvested and canned them for the winter, gathered eggs from the chickens, milk from the cow, ate meat only about once a week when they killed one of their chickens or rabbits, sewed most of their own clothes, got by without electricity and running water, used a wood burning stove, and took baths only once a week after going out and pumping the water, heating it on the stove, and pouring it into a big metal tub. Needless to say, they had to share the bath water. I always ask my mom how they had time to get everything done. She says that they worked hard but always seemed to have time to sit down together for dinner, play baseball outside with their dad and the neighbors on summer evenings, etc. Since the 1930’s we have made many gains, but it seems to me that we have lost something in the process. As we have moved from being a society of producers to consumers, we have lost a sense of peace and community which is a natural outcome of a simple lifestyle. I have been thinking a lot about that issue and plan to write some personal/family guidelines for making decisions related to consumption. I’ll send it to you when I have them written.