Finding Meaning in the Mundane: Three Lessons From Daily Life

  1. Carrying Water: My Tiny Glimpse into the Life of a Third World Woman

Because my tap water is truly terrible, and because my budget is limited, some years ago I had to choose among similarly limited options for potable and affordable drinking water. Both an installed purification system and delivered water are too expensive. Buying bottled water by the gallon is also expensive and uses far more plastic than my conscience allows me to do on a regular basis.

A water filtration pitcher worked for awhile, but because my water is so hard, and chlorinated, I went through the somewhat expensive filters too fast.

A friend told me about what has become my main solution. It’s imperfect, labor-intensive, and sometimes less convenient than I’d like, but mostly it works. I go to the Culligan store — yes, a water store– where I fill my bottles from convenient indoor taps, with water that has been purified several ways. The result is satisfactory for three main reasons.

  • 1. The water is pure and tastes really good.

  • 2. Even after the third price increase in several years, it costs only 35 cents a gallon – the cheapest option I’ve seen.

  • 3. The store is close to my home and roughly on my way to most places I go. Since I work at home and like being home, I try to keep my outside work, worship, and weekly errands within about a five mile radius, and this fits well within that.

Of course there are also some disadvantages.

  • 1. It takes work and time and adds another errand to my weekly routine.

  • 2. It’s a bit messy and tedious. I have to rinse each bottle with water and either white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or GSE drops, to keep them from growing science specimens. Then I have to rinse them again at the store, to get the tap water residue out. Then I fill them, find the change to pay for them, carry them to my car, and carry them back inside at home. And of course all of this involves quite a bit of dripping and splashing in several locations.

  • 3. If I’m out of water, I’m out of water. You just can’t go all night without drinking water because the store is closed or you don’t feel like taking a drive. It’s a little bit of a panicky feeling. I’m sure drinking a little of my tap water wouldn’t kill me, especially if I boil it for tea, but I don’t really want to take the chance, or deal with the terrible taste.

That’s where my plan B comes in. I try to buy a gallon at the store once-in-awhile, to have a little extra. If I’m really desperate, I’ll walk to the convenience store close to me and buy a couple of way overpriced small bottles to tide me over. This negates some of the frugality I’m doing all this work for, but it gives me a break, and relieves the fear of perishing from thirst.

So, overall, though I plan to look into other options when they become viable, for now it works, and I don’t mind it too much. At least I’m fortunate to have pure, tasty, affordable water a short drive away, and a car to get there, and I can easily fit a trip to fetch water into my normal routine, if a plan ahead a little.

But being one to look for meaning, connection, empathy and insight in the most prosaic activities, this chore often makes me think of those who don’t have it nearly so easy. Yes, rinsing, lugging, and filling water bottles every week is a bit of an annoyance. But I don’t have to walk anywhere to get to the water (except a few steps to and from my car). And it doesn’t take hours out of my week, much less my day.

There are still so many places in the world where drinkable water is hard to come by. And even if it is available, it is often a long, laborious, constant job to reach the source and carry it back and forth, on foot. And of course this task usually falls on the already burdened shoulders of women and girls. I’ve heard that some girls are even deprived an education because all this trekking for water doesn’t leave enough time to go to school.

I promised myself I would not turn this post into a rant against all the unfair ways girls and women are still treated, and I won’t. I’ll just say that this task that I sometimes resent makes me feel some kinship with and understanding for those women whose lives are much harder than mine.

It also reminds me how truly fortunate I am. Carrying my water is one extra chore. A slight inconvenience. It is not a backbreaking, life-limiting hardship.

I have access to good quality water, at little monetary cost, and for relatively little labor cost. I won’t say I wouldn’t be glad to find an easier way. But in the meantime I’ll remind myself to be grateful for all of these advantages it could be easy to take for granted or minimize.

Water is vital for life, and replenishing my water supply reminds me of what a good life I have.

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I’m getting to like the idea of writing these posts in installments, and since this vignette took all my word limit, I’ll save the other two for next time. (It will give me time to think of the third one). As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and experiences.

Fifty Great Things About Being Fifty Plus – Part 2

6. We’re not in a hurry all the time.

Likely in your twenties, thirties, and forties, you had a full-time job, tried to grow your career, reared children, served on committees, and on and on. Sometimes it was hard to catch your breath and enjoy life as it happened.

Now you are probably still busy, still working, still living an active life, but likely you are also juggling a little less, over the hardest part of the learning curve, and able to slow down a little. Make the most of it. Life goes by fast anyway; we don’t need to make it feel faster by not savoring the moment. The clock, like any tool or technology, should serve us, not be our master.

7. We are in a unique position to help those both younger and older than we are.

We’re right in the middle. We know more and have experienced more than those who are younger, and we can tell them things about life we wish someone had told us. We have likely gained some perspective that can help us and others.

We also probably have more strength and ability in some areas than those older than us. We can drive them where they need to go, shop for them, or just listen. They’ve been where we are – now we can pay some of it back, and still learn from them as well.

Some people call this the “sandwich generation,” where we face the demands of children and parents. But we can also benefit from this place in the middle, learning from and teaching the generations on either side of us.

Take just two examples:

1. Technology – likely those younger than us know more about modern technology than we do, and can teach us some of its uses and benefits. It’s also likely that we already know more about such things than those older than us, and we can patiently help them to use the benefits of technology as well.

2. Culture – while we have lived history that happened before later generations were even born, and can teach them about former ways of life, we can also benefit from the viewpoint of youth, renewing our energy, enthusiasm, and the sense of what is possible. Similarly we can keep learning from those who lived before us, and share our somewhat younger perspective with them.

8. Age doesn’t really matter so much, so we can be more open to friendships with those older and younger than ourselves.

This is basically a continuation of point 7, but it’s about more than just learning and helping, but about a true personal exchange with a variety of people of different ages and ways of thinking. When we view others, whatever their age, with an open mind and heart, we can broaden our viewpoint, deepen our empathy, and have meaningful exchanges that enrich everyone involved.

We may even try new things we’d never considered before, and enjoy spending time with people we might previously have overlooked.

My whole life I’ve enjoyed friendships with people much older than me, but more recently, as I’m less and less often the youngest person in the room, I’m learning to enjoy friendships with people much younger than me as well, and it does help me feel younger too.

9. There is still plenty we can do now to help to improve our physical and mental health in the coming decades.

We can keep using our bodies and our minds, learn new things, eat well, make a contribution, and take care of ourselves and our relationships in countless beneficial ways.

What we do, and don’t do, what we eat, and don’t eat, how we take care of ourselves, how active we are, physically and mentally, can help or harm our well-being as we age. This one, with some research, could become its own post. What do you think?

10. We can have fun.

Since we probably have fewer “have-to-do’s” in our lives, we have more time for “want-to- do’s.” What do you really want to do with the time and energy you have? This time of life is a great opportunity to have fun, seek adventure, and view the remaining years as full of possibility.

We also don’t care as much about what people think, and many in their late middle years have grand-children, so there are built-in excuses to play and try being young again.

Personally I love reading children’s books, both those I remember fondly from my childhood, and those written more recently. I love the sense of innocence and “anything is possible,” as well as the realism and psychological insight that many new books for children and teenagers feature. It’s a great way to tap into youthful thinking, to play, and to de-stress with the soothing ritual of a “bedtime story.”

If our development is reversed, in the sense that the elderly are sometimes considered child-like again, our middle years can be a kind of second adolescence. A better one because there’s less teenage angst, fewer rules, no high-school, and more freedom, but there can still be a sense of anticipation, energy, and possibility.

If adolescents are starting their adult lives, we late middles are re- starting them. It’s time to rejuvenate and consider, with a sense of excitement, what possibilities can still lie ahead for us.

In my last post, I admitted that I would actually consider 10 great things about being 50 plus, instead of 50. But I challenge you to keep adding to your own list, and I’ll do the same.