As usual, I rolled out of bed between 4 and 5 A.M. and stumbled through the house turning on the lights, firing up the computer and hitting the ‘start’ switch on the coffee pot. While these various gadgets began their daily ritualistic alchemies, I plodded off to the bathroom with all of the enthusiasm of a shuffling, mumbling extra on AMC’s series The Walking Dead. By the time I arrive my brain has barely stopped trying to convince my body to call off this whole sordid waking-up business ‘on account of sheep’ and just crawl back under the warm covers next to Lady B. Even when I flip on the bathroom light there is still nothing—absolutely, positively nothing to let me know that there is anything out of the ordinary happening. Yet, unbeknownst to me, I’m knee deep in one of those good old-fashioned character-building trials—it’s just that (cognitively speaking) I’m running a little late to the party.
Anyway to continue my story, the sheep don’t win. Mainly this is because at this point of the morning the only real concern that can possibly trump the siren-like call of the blankets is my aching bladder. There’s an old saying that says if your wife calls then you can easily run and hide…but when nature calls you will (at least eventually) answer. I’m both a big water drinker and a heavy sleeper so at this point in the morning my bladder can be as persuasive as a slick-talking insurance salesman at a rich man’s funeral. So, while I’m distracted with tending to all of the pressing royal business I’m clueless to the real crisis that is at hand. It’s not until I reach down and push that little magic lever on the toilet that it finally dawns on me that t-r-o-u-b-l-e has come to visit the Bowers homestead yet again. I don’t even have to lift the lid to look inside; the flat metallic ‘click!’ tells me everything that I need to know.
The water is out. Again.
Smack dab in the midst of this realization is when all of the pitiable self-analyzation starts… And yes, there’s audible commentary. (For details on what kind of commentary see my last post.) IF I had only realized that the water was out THEN I certainly could have made different choices… Because trust me when you share a bathroom and the toilet is not working (especially on a work/school day) it’s a lot like buying a ticket to an amusement park only to find out that the main attraction is closed for repairs. There’s about to be a lot of moaning, groaning and general unhappiness and when all that’s over I’ll still have to wake the rest of the family up and let them in what’s going on so the cycle can begin again. Joy.
Now why am I telling you about this? What do my water ills possibly have to do with character? Well trust me, when you get four busy people trying to prepare for their day with no water at all in the house—there’s going to be some character either displayed or lost somewhere!
I guess now we’ve come to the part of the story where I need to explain WHY we didn’t have any water. See, we’re on County Water and evidently the section of water line at the end of my driveway was already here when the fine folks from the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. Truthfully, I’m not completely convinced that it wasn’t already here when dinosaurs roamed the earth but I’ve yet to call the Discovery Channel and get one of their experts to weigh in on the subject. Never-the-less the pipe is understatingly old and 2-3 times a year it decides to channel its inner ‘Old-Faithful’ somewhere in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. It’s a high pressure line so it doesn’t take any time for it to create a river or white-capped rapids rolling across the road in front of our house. Now incidentally, since we live on a major state highway this sometimes makes for fantastic entertainment because every time an unsuspecting speeder plows through it the reminds me of the splash on the log flume at Six-Flags. And I’m really beginning to think that I should charge admission because I’ve seen splashes that go higher than the roof of my house. It’s the most entertaining speed bump I’ve ever seen.
Eventually though, the County shows up with trucks, shovels and men and within a matter of an hour or two they’ve got the pipe patched up. But don’t worry that’s right when the real adventure begins. Usually within just minutes of reburying the pipe and turning the pressure back on the line explodes again—most of the time in a spot just a few inches from the patch. Sometimes it even happens while they’re still there, but most of the time it sadistically waits till right after they’ve loaded their tools, piled in the truck and headed back to home base with blissful thoughts of dry clothes and sudsy drinks.
Now for the obvious question: Why doesn’t the County just replace the brittle, old water line? I know that the likely excuses would be ‘budget’ or ‘manpower’ but it seems like it would be a lot easier and less expensive on everyone to simply invest an afternoon laying a new pipe. But regardless of how things appear from the outside the powers-that-be deem that for the time being it’s better to just keep patching the tired, old pipe. Maybe they’re waiting on the pipe fairy to magically transform their shovel-jockies into a crack team of super plumbers or maybe hoping there’ll be a sudden, unexplainable streak of lottery winners among the county’s residents. (Which they can in turn unceremoniously fleece for taxes… Ok, Michael stop!) Either way, they’re waiting for ships that will never come in.
Here’s our Character-Quest thought/question of the day: Do we do the same thing sometimes? Are there important aspects of our lives that we treat with that same kind of reckless neglect that the County treats the waterline in front of my house? Do we sometimes thoughtlessly adopt a “let’s slap a patch on it” mentality with our problems and hope that they will just go away on their own?
One of the most compelling bits of wisdom that I’ve ever read says that “through idleness of hands the roof leaks”. [a] What this is essentially saying is that it’s important for us to be PROACTIVE in maintaining important aspects of our lives…identifying problems and taking care of them before they get out of hand. Just like physically the shingles on a roof wear out, an untended garden will grow weeds and an unpainted fence will decay—emotionally our relationships, our habits and our self-discipline will suffer if neglected. The longer we put off proper maintenance the more labor intensive and difficult repairs become.
Quick side story: I had a friend that installed a new window-mounted air-conditioning unit in the back room of his house. He left it running night and day and bragged all summer about how it kept things cool. One day, as Fall was settling in, it came time to turn the air off and he went back in the room for the first time. He quickly found out that the A/C unit hadn’t drained properly and had been steady dripping water into the wall and leaking it across the flimsy particle board under the carpet. He made this discovery when upon approach to the unit the rotted wood gave way and he fell to his knee through the floor! The lesson is: that being ignorant or negligent of our ‘rotting floors’ i.e. problem areas in life doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it will almost always makes them worse and often unrepairable.
Character-wise one of the most important things that we can ever do is to sit down and discover what our real priorities in life are. Chances are we’ll find that they’re a lot different than the areas that we’re currently emphasizing…we just don’t realize it yet. We’re cognitively in sleep mode and oblivious to any problem. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who incidentally was one of the smartest men on the planet, said: “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least”. This means that in order to become effective in the absolutely critical areas of our lives then we (A) have to know what they are (B) have to consciously put in the necessary work for it and (C) identify the ways of thinking and activities that try to prevent us from doing so. In other words, it’s also important to identify those things which “matter least”. For instance, we won’t be on our deathbed looking back wishing that we would have spent more time at the office, watching TV or surfing the internet. We’ll wish that we would have spent as much time as possible with the most important people of our lives or at least pursuing activities that develop/refine us as human beings.
Prioritizing our lives requires profound courage. That’s why we typically put it off for so long. We sit around hoping that we’ll magically win the lottery or things somehow will “become more convenient” for us to make critical changes in the way we eat, sleep and treat one another. In fact, one of the most purely destructive and self-sabotaging beliefs that we can ever have is to believe that one day somebody or something is going to “show up” on the scene and magically solve all of our problems for us. Waiting for our “ship to come in” leads to a lukewarm, apathetic state of mind that ultimately consumes us from within! Such a mindset is a cancer of true character because it keeps us from putting in the necessary discipline and work needed to overcome the challenges presented to us by our human nature and impulses! It gives our human nature an “excuse” for being complacent and doing nothing! Such thinking must be rooted out of our thinking and destroyed by any means necessary if we ever want to live the lives that we are meant to live!
Some of the most important areas of our lives that we put off are:
- Our Health – It takes money or effort to buy/grow good food and discipline to neglect convenience choices. It takes good time management and sacrifice to exercise as we need to.
- Our Relationships – especially long distance or damaged ones with parents, siblings and old friends. And while we’re at it email and social networking is only part of the answer to staying in touch with others. Too often it can become a “patch” if we try to replace personal visits and phone calls.
- Educational / Skill Development – You can plant the seeds of Character through knowledge but it is watered through action. Passive activities don’t help us to develop and hone ourselves and our abilities.
In the end, seek the things in life that truly matter and then make them your priority. Don’t wait till life sends you circumstances that make you do it. (Sickness, loss of a loved one or any life-changing difficulty) It’s EASY to find your priorities when this happens but by then it may be too late to effectively take advantage of it. Some opportunities never roll around twice. So the lesson here today is: Be Proactive.
I think that I’m going to start working on my own proactiveness by sending a copy of this article to the powers-that-be at the County Water Authority. Maybe—just maybe—it will inspire someone there to replace this old water line. However, in the mean time I guess that I’ll keeping an extra bucket of flushing water in the bathroom and maybe collect a little scrap wood to build an admissions booth to sell tickets to the log-flume at the end of my drive.
Until next time…
[a] Ecclesiastes 10:18