First question: Would you rather take a shower in ice-cold water, or skip taking a shower? Second question: Would you rather go without water or electricity in your home?

I had to think about both of these questions one day last week, although the choice wasn’t really mine to make in either one.

The first question came up during Table Topics at my Toastmasters meeting on Thursday morning. During Table Topics, a question, dilemma, or quote is presented to the group, and the person called on to reply has to give a one- to two-minute response. The purpose of this is to help us practice thinking on our feet and organizing our thoughts quickly.

The person in charge of Table Topics that day presented “Would you rather …” questions from a game her family often plays, and one of the questions was the choice between a cold shower and no shower. I wasn’t the one called on to answer it, but I still thought about what my response would be. The question made me think of my trips to Uganda, where hot water wasn’t always an option. I was often in dusty or muddy areas, I worked up a good sweat on most days, and the weather in Uganda was rather warm. So for me, going without a shower would be the less desirable choice between a cold shower and no shower.

That’s in Africa, though. Here in the States, I’d probably just skip my shower on a day that there was no hot water, especially knowing that the situation was most likely a temporary one.

Ironically, a few hours later I had to deal with the issue of having no water at all. And this was in real life, not a hypothetical situation. There was a break in a water main not far from where I live, and extensive repairs were required to fix it. I came home from a meeting early in the afternoon to find that I had no running water in the house. It was still off by the time I went to bed that night.

“Well, it’s better than having to go without electricity,” my husband said as we piled dirty dinner dishes in the sink to be washed whenever the water came back on. I wasn’t so sure, though. We’ve had plenty of experience going without electricity when a storm or something else knocks the power out briefly. It’s inconvenient to go without lights and not be able to watch TV or use the computer or microwave. But it doesn’t become a real problem unless it goes on for an extended period of time, when food in the refrigerator and freezer begins to thaw or melt.

Going without running water could become a problem much sooner, especially if I didn’t have bottled water in the pantry or a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator. I found myself again thinking of Africa when I was brushing my teeth that night. As I did in Uganda, where tap water is not safe to drink, I used bottled water to rinse the toothpaste from my mouth and my toothbrush. In Uganda, I rationed my water very carefully. But here, I assumed the water would be back on before I ran out of bottled water. Or clean dishes.

The whole experience – and the choices I didn’t really have to make that day – reminded me of how fortunate I am in my everyday life. Rarely do I have to go without clean water or hot water or electricity, and when I do it’s only temporary. But there are many people, in many parts of the world, who aren’t so lucky. Often they, too, don’t have to make choices between hot and cold showers, or between running water and electricity, but it’s because neither is available in the first place.

Whenever I’m struck with this realization, as I was on that day last week, it renews both my appreciation for what I have and often take for granted, and my desire to do what I can to help those who aren’t so fortunate. There are many ways we can all make a difference – from making donations to causes we feel strongly about and areas in which we want to help others, to volunteering our time and talents in ways and places that allow us to share what we have in abundance with people who are in need of it.

Once we decide to do that, there are only two questions we need to ask ourselves, and neither of them requires choosing between  hot and cold showers or between water and electricity.

First question: What can I do to help? Second question: How soon can I get started?

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 22, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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