It wasn’t quite that bad; just a day without hot or cold running water in our co-op while the workmen dealt with the pipes. We’ve had days without hot water before, often, because of repairs needed to the old pipes, but all that meant was that I had to delay taking a shower for a few hours, and therefore delay exercising, so I wouldn’t have to sit around feeling sweaty and gross waiting for the hot water to come back on. But no cold water meant that we have to keep buckets of water in the bathtub in order to flush the toilets, and wash our hands (I made sure to wake up before the water was turned off so I could brush my teeth without resorting to the buckets).
It’s really just an inconvenience, a nothing, compared to what most people deal with on a daily basis, but it was enough of an interruption to give me anxiety, and nightmares, and something to think about.
I don’t like to suffer. I’m sure that’s true of most people (though there are some weirdos who think suffering is good for us). I also, though, feel guilty for my resistance to suffering. I feel guilty for wanting to be comfortable. I feel guilty for wanting to avoid pain. I even feel guilty for saying that I feel inconvenienced, as if it should matter.
But this is who I am, and I am annoyed at not being able to press a lever to flush the toilet, and turn a faucet to wash my hands, even if it’s just for one day, or less than a whole day. I’m annoyed, and I’m uncomfortable and I have to deal with it. But how?
The first step was the practical one: planning ahead. We had to make sure that we had the buckets of water waiting in the bathtub, and fresh water in the fridge. And I needed to get exercise and showering done the day before so I wouldn’t feel so guilty if I had to miss a day of exercise, in case the lack of water lasted longer than expected.
That was the easy part. But then came the anger: Why do I have to put up with this? Why can’t there be some way to fix the pipes without shutting off the water? Why do they have to replace the pipes and the heating system and raise the cost of monthly maintenance? Why can’t I stay in a hotel until the whole thing is over?
I call this stage the Railing-at-God stage, because all of those decisions were made months, or years, ago and there’s nothing I can do about it now (except go to a hotel, which costs way too much money). But I’m still mad and grumpy and I need to whine and get it all out. Most people feel guilty or out of control during this stage, because, logically, whining is pointless, and if something is pointless why would you do it? But I find that the whining happens anyway, whether you like it or not, so you have to find a way to tolerate yourself while you whine and complain, and try to be compassionate. You don’t get to skip this phase just because you’re a good person, or a smart person, or even the person in charge who’s making all of the decisions. You just have to go through it.
But then, for me, there’s the echoing stage – where experiences from my past that are even slightly resonant with my current uncomfortable experience start to pop up. If it’s an issue I’ve dealt with already, it’ll just pop up a little bit and let me know it’s there and remind me of the lessons I’ve learned. I have to be patient and tolerant while I remember those lessons, even if what I really want to say is – yada yada yada, I’ve heard this a thousand times already.
But then there are the memories, or feelings, or snapshots pieced together in a kaleidoscope, that I haven’t fully dealt with yet, and will now have to feel, against my will, for as long as they need to be felt.
This time, as usual, that phase came in the form of dreams. There was the truly horrific nightmare about babies being suffocated at birth by mothers who felt they had no choice; then there were upsetting dreams about being back in elementary school, at my current age, and dealing with girls who didn’t like me and didn’t think I was cool enough and yet wanted me to take care of them anyway; and then there were those those endless bad dreams about not being able to find a usable bathroom and opening one stall after another to find stopped up toilets or no toilets at all.
And then I woke up and I raged at my brain for giving me so much crap to think about when I was already annoyed and inconvenienced with the no-water-drama. Damn it!
But this stage required my patience and my compassion too, and most of all, my attention, because if I didn’t pay attention this time I would certainly have to deal with the same issues again, and again, and again, because the universe is like that. Or humans are like that.
And what’s the lesson I was being taught here? Don’t suffocate the parts of you that you find annoying. Don’t shut out the voices that want to complain or rant or in any other way make you uncomfortable, and don’t imagine that ignoring yourself will make you go away.
We like to say that time heals all wounds, and that this too shall pass, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the work that takes us from one side of that gulf to the other. Time heals nothing on its own. We have to be willing to use the time to heal, or else time just passes and we don’t heal.
It all sucks, and I hate it, and I resent it, and it goes on forever and I want to scream and make it stop. But I still had to live through the inconvenience of the no-water-day, and feel all of the feelings and think all of the thoughts, and maybe, if I’m lucky, by the end of the day, another one of my deep wounds will have started to heal. And if I’m not lucky, I’ll get another chance to do this work in the near future, and then twenty times after that, until I get the lesson. And even then it will still pop up and remind me it’s there, just to check and make sure I’ve got that lesson and can move on to the next one.
I so wish it didn’t work this way. I wish there was a pill to take, or a cave to sleep in for twenty-some-odd years while Time Heals All Wounds. But nope. It’s this tedious feel-your-feelings, think-your-thoughts, grieve-your-losses thing, over and over and over again.
But the water did come back on at the end of the day, and I was able to wash my hands as many times as I wanted and flush the toilet extra just because I could. And the next day I was able to get on the exercise bike and do my forty-five minutes while watching a French murder mystery, and take a shower, and imperceptibly, feel a little lighter as I went on with the rest of my life. And over time, each of these obnoxious, uncomfortable, interminable lessons can stack up into real change, and real relief, and real healing. Because, time heals all wounds, just not by itself.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?