I had just returned from a very nice evening with a good friend: dinner and a free concert on a mild July evening in an otherwise hot and unusually dry summer. As I walked up the porch steps I was greeted at the front door by my downstairs neighbor, Elana. We joked about my breaking curfew and then she proceeded to tell me that we didn’t have water and neither did Bob across the street. Thinking it was an isolated incident, I hopped into my car to retrieve some bottled water to see me through what I thought would just be a temporary inconvenience. As I pulled into the Tops parking lot I was shocked to see how crowded it was. I recognized someone else from my neighborhood, and rolled down my window to inquire about the melee. He reported that the store was running out of bottled water. I felt precious seconds tick by as he explained in detail where in the store to find some water all the while shoppers were coming out with cartfuls of it.
He was right. By the time I got into the store there were only a few bottles of sparkling spring water—enough for drinking but what about washing and flushing the toilet? I grabbed what I thought was a reasonable amount and headed for the checkout where I was met by people with shopping carts teeming with cartons and jugs of water, piled and spilling over. I heard one woman in line instruct her son to grab another cart and go back through the store to get more.
By now the local news app on my iPhone had buzzed to say that the water outage was affecting several thousands of people but that the problem had been identified and should be fixed within a couple of hours. Surely other people in the store had heard this news by now, so why the panic? Standing in line with my meager armful of bottled water, I suddenly felt very much like a “have-not.” I’m a widow with only myself and a Siamese cat to care for. I certainly understood the concerns a mother of four must have right now. But what if the water isn’t back on in a few hours? What if the drought is worse than we thought? What if this is truly a crisis?
Who will be left waterless in the wake of our fears?
The county water authority was true to its word. By the time I woke up the next morning the water was once again flowing out of my faucets. But I couldn’t shake off that uneasy, even annoyed feeling I went to bed with the night before when I found myself on the wrong side of plenty. A few mornings later I began to wonder where on the spectrum of giving and taking did I fall. As I was getting ready for work I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, “Faith Encouraged Daily” with Fr. Barnabus Powell and his words were timely. “How humble and loving our God is that He holds all He has so loosely that He shares it with anyone” (July 26, 2016). Father’s remarks lead me to further ask what is it in my life that I may be jealously guarding, even hoarding?
You won’t find me on an episode of “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” but I must confess to moments of anxiety-provoked amassing. The first blizzard I experienced since becoming a widow found me alone, without electricity, and with only a few non-perishables in the cupboard. Luckily, I had a manual can opener, but quickly grew tired of canned tuna fish, cold soup, and dry cereal. Since then, it doesn’t take a winter weather alert to rouse me into stocking the pantry. Being single I sometimes spend too much time in a future scenario of when I may not be able to get to the store. The hint of a head cold will send me off to the gas station to fill a three-quarters-full gas tank or off to the grocery store to buy yet one more can of my go-to-when-I’m-sick soups in the likely event that I’m laid low. But unchecked self-sufficiency can have unfortunate consequences. I’ve failed to include something very important in my inventory of basic survival essentials: the friends who mean it when they ask is there anything they can do for me, get for me?
And sadly, it is with these very friends that I can be quite miserly with my time and emotional energy.
A few months ago one of them called me on the phone, and it was one of those moments when I almost didn’t answer. It was mid-evening and I had a number of things I wanted to accomplish before I went to bed, and I was drained from my work day. Again, I blame my single state for why I compulsively focus on myself. There’s no one around anymore who makes immediate demands on my time and attention, no one who’s needs I must put before mine. I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. As expected, I did a lot of listening as she unburdened herself about a troubling family situation. I offered very little advice as there was little to give, rather, I tried to validate her feelings on the matter. Something drew my friend’s attention away from our conversation, and so our call abruptly ended. I hung up not sure of what exactly I had accomplished, but felt better for at least having portioned out some of my time for her. Days later my friend related how our conversation helped her gain the perspective she needed to in turn offer the right kind of support to her family member. A series of healing events began to flow forth all because I bothered to pick up the phone, bothered to pour out a bit of my time, bothered to uncork and decant an ounce of my compassion.
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