We all do many things throughout the day without giving much thought as to how convenient they are. Often we do them automatically without recollection of having done them. Take a very simple act of filling a cup of drinking water or flushing a toilet, one providing clean sanitized water for drinking, both requires a water delivery system under pressure, and the other a sewage drainage system to safely dispose of sewage. There are also the infrastructures for collecting, filtering, and sanitizing the water and processing the sewage for safe release into the environment that we are totally oblivious of. Yet these and thousands more are all the wonders of technological conveniences and infrastructure we enjoy and take so much for granted daily without awareness or appreciation.
Thirty years ago I visited the rural farming village in China where my father was born. Things there are very much like they were over 100 years earlier with a couple of exceptions: they have electricity running to their houses to illuminate the two dim light-bulbs in my hosts ancient brick house of about 400 sq. ft., and their sewage system which used to run in an open ditch along the street is now covered with small rectangular cement slats. Water is still carried from a village well to each resident by a hawker and dumped into barrels for storage and eventual use and the toilet is an open pit in an outhouse. No one owns a car but instead rides bicycle or simply walks to get around. Their streets are of either dirt or ancient cobblestone. There is nearby shopping on a main street about six blocks away that occasionally has a bus running to take them out-of-village. I’m not sure how they bathed because I did not see a bathroom in my host’s three room house consisting of a family room, bedroom, and kitchen. The kitchen consists of an ancient brick charcoal stove also used to heat the house and an adjacent sink and tiny counter for preparing food. No need for a refrigerator because fresh food is acquired daily. There is a small table with a couple of chairs for eating. Leftovers are stored under a screen container to keep out flies. The house is very simply furnished and neatly organized. The husband is a farmer who owns a water buffalo for tilling the land. Water is boiled and stored in flasks for drinking but they also drank boiled tea. Not telephone, radio, or TV. Fertilizer for their crops appears to come from their toilet waste which is mixed with water and manually delivered by two portable sprinkler buckets hanging on either end of a bamboo pole carried on the shoulders of the farmer. Needless to say vegetables are eaten cooked. Nothing is wasted. Life in the village is very crude and basic. It is due to such poverty that many Chinese from that part of China came to America early in the last century, like my father, for the promise of a better life.
So when I occasionally think about all the things I take so much for granted in my daily life I think back to that visit long ago to that very poor farm village in China where life was much closer to its basic elements. I feel so lucky to have been born in American and not that village. Of course there are other parts of the world where the standard of living is even lower than in rural China such as parts of Africa.
I’m so thankful for the clean water that I drink directly from the tap. I’m thankful for having a bathroom in my bedroom having a shower and bathtub with heated water, a toilet that does not smell, and running water on demand. I am thankful for having a kitchen with a trash compactor, sink with garbage disposal, dishwasher, refrigerator, and electric stove. I am thankful for a washer and dryer. I am thankful for the computer and TV that keep me busy and entertained. I am thankful for a roomy well lit and comfortable house with central heating and a garage. I’m thankful for a comfortable car to take me conveniently around. There is so much more that I tend to take so much for granted that I am also thankful for. It is so much better living in America than in rural China where my father was born.
We should occasionally take time to consider how truly fortunate we are to have all we take so much for granted even when we feel life so bleak and hopeless. Life is a lot bleaker and hopeless in other parts of the world yet even there people are thankful for what little they have. So indeed we are very fortunate even if we take far too much for granted.