The day before Thanksgiving, I woke up at 5 a.m. and bolted out of bed to get a head start on a day full of preparations.
That plan derailed in the time it took me to turn on the shower and brush my hair before sticking my hand under the running water.
“Oh, no,” I said. “No, no, no.”
Immediately, our dog, Franklin, was at my side, his tail slapping my calf in solidarity. Adventure was ours.
We ran down two flights of stairs to the basement, where I watched in horror as he started splashing around in the pool of gurgling water. Each time I yelled Franklin’s name, he ran over to me and licked my hand dangling at my side: “No kidding, Mom. This sucks. But: Water!”
I slid out of my slippers and went into the rising tide, wading to the water heater. It was also cold to the touch.
My husband says there’s nothing quite like awakening to the sound of his wife’s curdling wail from the bowels of our home. Being a morning person — this time, I note that with admiration — he immediately volunteered to soak up the water with virtually every bath towel in the house. I shut off the water valves and made the emergency call to the plumber.
I needed to do something while I waited for help to arrive. It was only after I started to wash my hair in the kitchen sink — don’t judge — that I realized how much I had needed this blessed reminder masquerading as a mini-crisis.
Seeing the tips of my wet hair swishing across the bottom of the sink summoned such a strong memory from my childhood. When my sisters and I were little, my mother used to line us up in the kitchen and then stand on a step stool to wash our hair, one tangled head at a time.
Mom has been gone for 17 years, but I could hear her laughing approval as I stood up and shivered, my hair dripping down my back. One never leaves the house with dirty hair. For the first time since election night, I felt the tingle of gratitude working its way up my spine.
“A believer is one who can remain loyal to life no matter what,” Thomas Moore, a psychotherapist and former Catholic monk, wrote in his book “The Soul’s Religion.”
For me, that loyalty to life is renewed every time I remember to list — sometimes mentally, sometimes with pen to paper — all that I am grateful for. There is so much, and none of it has to do with water heaters. I needed to remember that.
Like millions of other Americans, I am worried about the future of our country under President Donald Trump. I have felt overwhelmed at times by the sad emails and notes from readers and strangers’ pleas for assurance in public places.
The latter has really thrown me. I’ve been a columnist for 14 years. I’m married to a U.S. senator. We’re sometimes recognized, especially when we’re out and about in Cleveland, and people often want to talk about what’s on their minds. Our rule for our marriage is that when we’re out in public, we belong to the public. But these encounters in the past couple of weeks rival nothing I’ve ever experienced — in number and degree.
Three days after the election, a man approached me at a gas station and, without introduction, said: “My mother is inconsolable about this election. What do I tell her?” During intermission at a play in downtown Cleveland, a woman recognized me and began to cry. “We’re going to be OK, right?” she said, holding her arms open for a hug. “Please tell me we’re going to be OK.”
I know from social media that some love to dismiss such responses to this election as theatrics. “They’re overreacting,” they say. “Get over it.” Their favorite retort: “We survived Barack Obama.” The false equivalence of media coverage has become the language of daily discourse.
We have hot water again, and I have to admit that Franklin looks a little cleaner after his basement swim. Later that same morning, I stood at the bread counter at the grocery and exchanged stuffing recipes with a woman I do not know. It felt normal and real, and it was exactly what I needed.
I am grateful to be tethered to this world. I am loyal to life, still.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.