Yes, hot water is a luxury. It’s perfectly possible to get along without hot water on demand, without sacrificing sanitation or comfort. Granted, I’ve only had to do it for a few days, but it is possible. We have an aging water heater, and the lower heating element finally bit the dust. We’re reasonably confident we can replace it, but it’ll be another day before we get the part in, so we’ve spend 3-4 days without reliable hot water on tap.
But we’ve still had hot water – all of what we need for cleaning and hygiene coming from what we can heat up on the stove top. I’m grateful that I have a few canning pots and stock pots in my kit – they’ve certainly been earning their keep of late. I usually keep my favorite cast iron cookware pieces and tea kettle in pride of place on the range, so they’re ready to go when I need them for morning beverages or cooking. But I’ve cleared them off in favor of a trio of huge pots, and it’s more than kept us in hot water.
Doing the dishes and housecleaning with water heated on the range is no particular hardship, but I will admit the convenience of a hot shower on tap is a luxury I do certainly greatly appreciate during the best of times. But taking a half hour to heat water and make a bath does not greatly diminish the fact that one can still get oneself reasonably clean from the effort. The water heats while you do other things – make and eat dinner, or go through a bedtime routine, or finish up other household chores. Three large kettles will give you enough hot water to work with – not for a deep soaking bath, but for a reasonably pleasant warm bath that will do the job for cleanliness. There are worse things.
And then, of course, is the reminder of how precious water is. Every human being – every creature on Earth – is certainly entitled to water, since we are biologically composed of it. Humans are 90% water, so it’s definitely not an optional part of our nutrition. We must have water to live, and most common accounts say that humans will perish after three days (give or take) without water. And dehydration is rumored to be a very unpleasant, painful way to go. So water is a right, but at the same time, it also a substance to be revered. Not everyone in the world has ready access to water, much less heated water, and droughts are no uncommon event. Those of us in industrialized nations (myself well included) who are used to turning on a faucet at will and getting whatever quantity of water (cold or hot) that we desire – and often enough for the most frivolous needs – run the risk of ignoring reverence for the essential. We have no respect for it, no awe at it’s life-giving role in our lives. In short, we take it for granted. And it’s only those (typically) short-lived moments of doing without the we learn, very rapidly, the error of our ways. When we have to work for our water, and our hot water, we appreciate it all the more. It becomes something we have to devote attention, time and care to. Our relationship changes from a passive one to an active one, and it makes all the difference.
The key, of course, is to carry these lessons forward. One the water heater is repaired, it will take effort and concentration on my part to make a conscious decision to turn on the tap. And at the end of the day, that is what is missing so often from our modern, on-demand lives. Let us not abandon reverence, even for the things that are necessary, and that we deem that we deserve.