As I pressed “End Call” on my iPhone I just couldn’t hold back any longer.
And so, I laughed. Loud and hard and long. And as I thought about what others would think about my mirth in a time like this, I laughed even louder and harder and, yes, longer.
Soaked to the skin and standing ankle-deep in water, my only function — other than laughing — was to try to divert as much of the stream of water bursting through the hole above the bathtub down and into the tub where it could drain away safely. I was having some success, although I could tell by the way the water level was rising outside the tub that the cascade was finding another path.
My son, Jeremy, was on his way to assist as a result of my phone call. He arrived minutes later. Before he could ask me the natural questions that arise at times like this, I was already into the story.
It seems that the bath faucet handle had been broken in the guest bathroom. Since we had gone through this with a handle in the back bedroom shower, I had already decided that no plumber would be called on this day. Too expensive. I sauntered off to a nationwide home improvement center, confronted a plumbing “expert” with my problem and the broken pieces, and was pointed to the small package of parts that I would need.
My last question to this person wearing an apron or a vest or something that just shouldn’t be worn unless cooking was, “Now, I need to turn the water off to the house before I replace this, right?”
“No, no,” he said. “You’re just replacing an extension stem. Just pull the old one out and slip this one in. You’ll be all set.”
“You’re sure?” I queried. “I would think that you would turn off the water anytime you’re working on a faucet.”
“Positive. Just call me if you have a question.”
Armed with his name and the store’s number, I headed home. I had taken off work for the day to carve away at a rather large to-do list. Since this small repair wasn’t even on the list, my plan was to handle it early and quickly and then move on.
Standing in the bathtub in question, I pulled the trim off the faucet and attempted to pull the stem off in the easy manner described by the expert. No luck. It was easy to see that the stem was housed in a chrome socket that needed to be unscrewed. Memories of Three Stooges’ movies filled my brain. Immediately, I pulled out my phone and called my expert.
A couple of minutes later, assured by him that we weren’t “going deep enough” to worry about turning off the water, I was slowly turning the socket with my channel-lock pliers. I remember thinking, “This just doesn’t seem right.” About that moment, the chrome socket, the broken stem, and some other important plumbing pieces shot past by my head at a speed just slightly shy of the speed of light. That parade of parts was followed quickly by a surge of water not seen in our part of dry, West Texas since the Columbus Day Flood of the early ’80s.
My immediate response was . . . “Wow!” Then . . . “Oh, no!” Then a dash to the front yard to turn off the water. Then . . . “Oh, no! I didn’t bring a wrench to turn off the water!” Then quick ingress to the house toward the garage to get a wrench. In midpath, I noticed that water was going everywhere. That’s when I decided to try to divert the water while I called for help.
And so, I stood and laughed as water exited the wall at high velocity and I realized that my attempt at diversion was, at best, only a slight distraction for the water. And I laughed harder. There was nothing else to do for the moment.
You know the feeling though, don’t you? You find yourself in the middle of a growing debacle — one that could have been easily prevented. And you knew better than to do what you did. But some well-meaning person (or perhaps criminally deranged or negligent person, as in my case) gives you different advice. Advice that just doesn’t sound right, doesn’t fit. And now it becomes apparent that it doesn’t work.
Laughter is rarely the response we have in those circumstances. Saying “I knew better” over and over again doesn’t make things feel any better. And then, there’s the aftermath of clean-up and assessing the damage caused because we knew better but didn’t honor the feeling.
I accomplished nothing on my to-do list this day. Instead, I soaked up water and learned the finer eccentricities of my wet-dry vacuum which, until this afternoon, had known only dry work. I also received a lesson in faucets from the plumber who came a few hours later. Seems I would have done fine — if only I’d turned the water off.
The biggest problem, of course, wasn’t the water. It was the pressure of the water — there was just a lot of it in a short amount of time.
Often times, when we deal with others we don’t agree with, it’s not the disagreement that holds the greatest potential for damage. The emotion and the pressure are the dangerous elements — not the substance of the conversation.
Just as I learned in my plumbing lesson, sometimes it is better to create a little space and relieve the pressure. It doesn’t guarantee that the problem will be fixed. But it certainly allows for a more relaxed discussion.
In those difficult moments, honor your feelings and do the right thing. Take time to honor the relationship and relieve the emotional pressure. Despite the advice of talk show hosts and politicians, it’s more important to do the right thing than it is to be right. After all, you know better.