The water was only lukewarm when I opened the shower door and reached in to feel it. I shrugged, guessing I hadn’t turned the water valve open far enough to get the heat I wanted. Pushing the valve further open, I stepped under the disappointing cascade of water and warily waited for the much hotter water to begin pelting my skin. Moments passed as I cold shampooed my hair. The shower stubbornly stayed a constant lukewarm temperature. An alarm began to go off in the responsible, homeowner, adult portion of my mind, “What’s wrong with the hot water heater?”
Refreshed by the shower despite its unsatisfying water quality, I quickly forgot about running to the basement to check the water heater. That act of responsibility reentered my mind several hours later as I cleaned the kitchen counters and the kitchen faucet gave an abundance of hot water for me to rinse a dish cloth. I sighed with relief, “There’s nothing to worry about. The hot water heater is fine.”
The next morning, I got up and washed my face as usual. The water from the tap was only just warm, but I attributed that to not having let the water run long enough. With water pipes snaking through the walls of a house up to a second-floor bathroom, it isn’t reasonable to expect instant hot water.
An hour later when I turned on the kitchen faucet, not a single drop of water came out. Deep in the plumbing below the counter I heard, “glurp”, the sound of a pipe choking on an air bubble.
Addressing my late husband, I cried, “Oh, no, Arnie! Something is wrong with either my well pump…or the hot water heater!” A trip to the basement soon revealed that the well pump that had popped off due to running too much water, and the hot water heater had dozens of water rivulets escaping the tank’s bolted service compartment.
My house had no running water. That meant no toilet flushing, no washing hands, no showers and no tea to drink. Civilization, as I knew it had just collapsed.
I lamented my first world problem to the empty room, “What a thin crust civilization has! You take away electricity, plumbing, septic systems, and poof, the good life disappears.” Laughing at myself, I texted for help.
Since it was Saturday morning, I wasn’t holding out for a quick solution to my dilemma. I was surprised by how promptly my call for help was answered. Although I couldn’t have hot water restored until Monday, my system was switched over to just cold water. Having the niceties of a flushing toilet, water to heat, drink and wash restored my wounded sense of refinement.
Until a new water heater was installed, I meditated on and researched what makes a civilization, a civilization.
The first thing that popped up in my computer when I entered the search word, ‘civilization’ was the following paragraph.
“As recently as the last century, people made the things they used every day. Yet in the span of just a couple generations, we have become a society of consumers rather than makers. Thanks to today’s modern conveniences, we have become disconnected from the basic skills and knowledge on which our lives and our world depend.”
The rest of the article explained how to make soap, butcher and preserve meat, forage for food, weave cloth, sew and many other things a post-apocalyptic person would need to know. I shook my head and wondered, “Does knowing how to do all of these things make us a civilization?”
Then I came across a story about Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist. A student once asked her what was the earliest sign of a civilized society. Mead answered that the first sign of a civilization is a healed human femur, the long bone which connects the hip to the knee.
Mead went on to explain that wounded animals would be hunted down and eaten before a broken bone could heal. A healed femur is a sign that an injured person must have received help from others. She stated, “Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”
Remembering how quickly my call for help was answered, I sighed with satisfaction, “The society I live in is still civilized.”