Cold Winters, Burst Pipes and First-World Problems

Ever since I was fifteen it is has been the winter of 1978 that set the standard against which we measured all other winters in Indiana.  That was the year of a state-wide blizzard that shut down the entire Hoosier state for several days.  I remember how hard the snow fell, how fierce the wind blew, how deep the drifts were.  It was a rough one, the blizzard of ’78.  Through the years, whenever there was a bad winter storm here in Indiana, you would always hear someone say “This is nothing compared to ’78.”

                Well, the winter of ’14 is putting up a pretty good fight to top the winter of ’78 as the one people remember.  Record snowfall and bone-chilling cold have been the order of the day for most of this New Year.  After Christmas, my family spent a week in Florida where running on the beach in shorts happened every day. The morning after we got home, I was shoveling six inches of snow out of my driveway only to have twelve more inches fall the next day followed by about thirty-six hours when the temperature never got above -5 degrees.  We also lost power in our subdivision for about two days.  The first night my family stayed at home.  The second night it was just too cold so we went and stayed the night at the home of some very hospitable church members.

                Sometime during that second night the power was restored and that morning I went home to check on things.  When I opened the garage door I thought, “There sure does seem to be a lot of water in here.  Maybe it is from the snow melting from the top of the other car.”  But when I opened the door to the house, I could hear the water.  It was cascading down from the ceiling in our utility room and all the floors on the first level of our home were covered in water – the family room, a bedroom, a bathroom, the utility room and a pantry.  Plenty of water had also gone down into our crawl space.  A best guess is that the water had been flowing for about four hours from a pipe that had frozen and burst.  And yes, I had left water running in all my faucets.  It was just so cold – worse even than ’78.

                Well, my immediate response was to say several non-ministerial type words and try to figure out how to get the water shut off.  Which I succeeded in doing after I called a friend who told me where the shut off valve was.  After that, I spent the morning making phone calls to the insurance company and the water extraction company and began the process of sorting through what was ruined and what wasn’t.  That was two weeks ago.  Now the house is dry and livable.  The insurance company has been most helpful and responsive.  We are waiting for the contractor’s estimate to put things back together.  He’s pretty busy.  Seems that there were a lot of burst water pipes in this winter that rivals ’78.

                I have to confess that when I saw the water coming from my ceiling and started thinking about all that was going to have to be done, I was not in a very good frame of mind.  But as the day wore on, I remembered something.  I remembered a phrase that I have encountered a lot lately, “first-world problem.”   It refers to the concept that so much of what we consider troubling, much of the rest of the world doesn't even get the opportunity to struggle with.  When that phrase came into my mind it helped to put things in proper perspective.  Yes, it was frustrating to have water pouring from my ceiling.  But the truth is, all my life I have lived in a home where fresh water, as much as my family wants, has been pumped directly into the house.   There are millions of people in the world whose access to clean water is severely limited, that is if they have access at all.  Some people walk several miles each day just to provide a few gallons of water for their family.  Yes, it was frustrating and time consuming to sort through all the wet stuff and decide what was ruined and what wasn’t.  But then I remembered those I have read about in parts of Asia and Central America and other places, who live next to garbage pits and sort through other people’s trash to try and find what they can to recycle and provide for their families.  (I would recommend Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai City” for anyone who needs to learn about those who live by the trash heaps.)  As I waited for the insurance company to calculate the loss and present me with a check that will pay for most everything to be put back just as it was, I remembered that there are many people in the world who don’t have nearly as much as I do and if they happen to lose what little they have it is simply gone.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish my pipe hadn’t frozen and burst in this winter that is putting up such a fight to topple the winter of ‘78.  But that first night as I sat in my home with its wet floors, I ate pizza and barbeque wings and I remembered that the world is a whole lot bigger than the two inch gash in the water pipe in my ceiling.  There are a whole lot of things worse than living for a few weeks in a home with concrete floors and missing drywall.  I remembered just how fortunate I am and that my God-given purpose isn’t simply to enjoy what I have and feel that I’ve been wronged when things get a little out of sorts.  My God-given purpose is to work for a world where everyone has access to fresh water, where everyone has a home that provides shelter, a world where people don’t have to live in other people’s trash, a world where everyone has just what they need to live a full and abundant life.   I didn’t lose my religion when I saw the water coming down from my ceiling.  The truth is that water ended up helping me think about what my religion really is.

Well, I’ll always remember the winter of ’14.  I’ll let others argue about whether or not it replaces ’78 in severity.  For me, this will always be the winter of the burst pipe and the water flowing from the ceiling. The winter in which God reminded me of proper perspective and what really matters.  For that I am grateful, burst pipe and all.