This week the sewage line at our house backed up. It was pretty gross and our basement smelled pretty foul, but it could have been so much worse.
I realize that it's strange to be thankful when your sewer line backs up, and it's not like the smelly event was something we wanted to happen, but like I said, it could have been so much worse.
Just a day earlier, I woke up with a sensation I don't normally have--thankfulness. I usually have to work at being thankful; it doesn't come naturally to me. Yet, I woke up with the feeling that I was thankful I had a nice house to live in--one with plenty of problems, but overall a nice one. As I said, thankfulness is not the feeling I usually wake up with; normally I'm cursing the alarm and confused about what day it is. Still, I found myself considering the many people who don't have the blessing of a place to live in and I felt thankful.
(Maybe I've just been hearing too much of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" in heavy rotation on the radio station playing Christmas music. Cue Bono singing, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you!")
The day after this mysterious bout of thankfulness, Jen calls me at work to inform me that she and my younger son went downstairs to the basement for something only to discover a sight and smell that was grosser than gross. That was the bad news, but the good news is that we were able to get a plumber and his wonderful auger out to our house first thing the next morning. The young man with the auger was amazingly knowledgeable about sewer lines--I found out more than I ever wanted to know about human waste disposal, tree roots entering clay sewage lines and remedies for said invasive tree roots. More good news--our sewer line wasn't broken and in need of a multi-thousand dollar repair but rather the augering (is that a word?) took care of the problem. Even more good news--they were running a special and the bill was $75 lower than normal (is December a slow month for sewage backups?).
Yes, the clean up involved lots of steps I would rather not describe in detail along with a tremendous amount of bleach, but after changing the diapers of two kids and housebreaking multiple dogs, we weren't strangers to this kind of work--not really.
Jen and I discussed how much worse things could have been. This could have happened on Christmas Day. It could have happened the day after Christmas when my mother-in-law arrives to stay with us for a week. It could have happened when we were out of town. It could have happened any number of times with much more inconvenient scenarios. As I've already said, it could have been much more expensive. Since our knowledge of sewer systems is pretty limited, we would have probably accepted whatever our friend with the auger told us. He could have charged us way more and we would probably not have questioned him. Thank you God for honest plumbers!!!!!
At a different time in my life--okay at many, many different times in my life--I would have only seen the negative in this situation. I would have used the backed up sewer as an excuse to back up the sewer in my mind and spew all sorts of nastiness on anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck listening to me. I would have fed the part of me who likes to feel like a victim and play games of "who has it worse?" when in reality so many people have it worse than me. Instead--with a lot of help from my wife--I was thankful.
In theological terms, we call moments like this grace. They are moments of grace, because when they occur God gives us the insight to recognize our own blessings and to live for a while within that knowledge. I believe it is more than merely looking on the bright side of things, but instead it is a divine gift that we learn to accept or we don't. The more we do accept such instances of grace the better people we are--the more thankful we are, the less selfish, the more humble and the less narcissistic.
Don't get me wrong, it's not like I live in such moments of grace all the time. This morning Jen and I sat at our kitchen table splitting a banana. The banana was new and not quite ripe. I opened my mouth and out came, "Bananas! They're either too ripe or not ripe enough!" My wife responded, "Oh yeah, it's a terrible thing to have enough fresh fruit to eat every day. Shut up and eat your banana." Somewhere in the distance I heard my mother saying something about starving children in India. . .
Grace and Peace