Hot water needles my bare skin. Head thrown back, I look up to the shower head in adoration. I am transported. I am having a religious experience. The quantity and quality of the water (just short of scalding) takes me away and I am reborn – cleansed inside and out.
Sometimes my coffee cup rests on the rim of the tub. Other times, a glass of wine. Time passes.
Meanwhile, I’m a bad girl: I’m wasting water.
But I waffle. I am not as bad as some… I turn out lights when I leave a room… my car gets 45 miles/gallon… I don’t use chemicals on my lawn… I turn down the thermostat in the winter, and I have never shot an elephant for ivory or bought rhinoceros horn.
But then I experience a pang of guilt. I am wasting water. In terms of power consumption, hot water comes at a price that includes pollution. And my mind flits back to shorter showers that I have taken. In the Amazon I showered under untreated, brown river water. In Mexico, as a courtesy to other campers, I kept my solar showers short.
In the mid-60s, I lived in Madrid. I boarded with a family living on Plaza de Angel in the old city. The shower was on-demand. If you wanted a shower, you plugged in the heating unit and waited ten minutes. Speed was essential because once the water was hot, you had only three minutes. I remember winter; I remember the broken bathroom window. I remember snow swirling in through the window. I remember the soap slipping out of my hand and skidding across the floor. I remember that by the time I retrieved the soap, I was out of hot water. With no central heating, the third-story flat was always cold. I was cold. Only a shot of cognac before I caught the 7:40 subway to campus warmed me.
Why don’t we have metered showers today? Three minutes of pelting hot water is not therapeutic, but it does get the job done. I think of writing to people in high places; someone should get the three-minute-shower debate on the environmental table.
And then… just as I was feeling virtuous (feeling… not “being”) about my small tokens to the environmental movement, I read a back copy of the July/August, 2009 issue of Orion magazine. Imagine my soaring spirits as I read the title of an article authored by Derrick Jensen: “Forget Shorter Showers: Why personal change does not equal political change”
Jensen begins with a great first paragraph: Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday […] then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Rather than feeling smug and virtuous with our own small environmentally conscious sacrifices, we should harken to Jensen’s call to become political activists by “voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, and protesting.”
I am tired. Too tired to protest. Some of my fatigue is age-related. But I think that I am weary of politics in general. I am tired of a grid-locked, polarized Congress. I am tired of Supreme Court decisions based on and divided by ideology. In particular, I am saddened by The Court striking down limits on campaign spending. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that such restrictions “intrude without justification” on First Amendment and the exercise of free speech.
I wrote a poem a couple of days ago. The poem probably addresses my complaints faster than I can.
The Great Divide: Why fear foreign travel / when you can be fearful at home? / We are tribal. We keep to ourselves: / other tribes may flaunt their colors. / Hackles high, we build sharp-barbed / fences, walls, and gated compounds. / Poor whites, trailer trash, and the homeless / haunt us. Brother can you spare a dime? / Pepto Bismol fights indigestion. / Prozac keeps our fears at-bay. / Fear runs rampant. Hackers have our passwords. / Hunker down. Pull the blinds. Close the hatch. / Drones and Homeland troops protect us. / Shoot first – call security. / curb your fear of masked men, / cartel kingpins, blazing guns and / droopy-drawer’d hoodies. / Smell the marijuana! / No one wants diversity. / Cowering, we shun skate boarders, / bankers, brokers, bag-ladies, / fat folks, poets, priests, and pimps. / Fenced in, we ignore our common ground. / No one wants to bridge the chasm. / We avoid the godly, godless / and godforsaken. / Let us pray.
I need therapy. I think I’ll take a long hot shower.