As I had done nearly every morning for the previous 4 years, I reached into my shower stall and turned the water on, closing the door immediately (to prevent any cold water from splashing out onto me or the carpet). I waited my customary 45 seconds, removed my clothing, placed my towel alongside the shower and checked my weight on the scale. I quickly opened the door and jumped in (again, before the water from the shower would get the floor wet). You might imagine my surprise when my usually hot-water was very, very cool. You can imagine my frustration when I turned the water as hot as I could and it was barely lukewarm.
After getting re-dressed, I walked downstairs into my basement to discover that something had “tripped off” my water heater. For most people, this might not be something to be concerned about. They might just flip on the switch. But they have electric water heaters. Mine is natural gas. Come to think of it, maybe people with natural gas water heaters would just turn theirs on as well, but not me.
Here’s what I know about natural gas: it is flammable and combustible. I know that people have died lighting their pilot lights inappropriately. I know that I have felt the ground shake after a natural gas explosion where a nearby home was lifted off its foundation. I know that the natural gas lines are always pressurized, delivering fuel to my home constantly and I know that the last thing that I want to do is to add a spark.
People deal with this stuff all the time, yet I (under similar, if not the same, circumstances) was fearful. What if I just can’t smell the gas? What if I light it wrong? Can I call someone else to do this for me? Who would I even call?
As is usually the case, I called the one person who I trusted:: My father. Don’t mistake me, I don’t call my father for everything, but this was in his wheel-house. He is a farmer’s son in a family of builders, once formally employed as a turbine mechanic in a power generation facility who has also been a foreman for a municipal natural gas company responsible for laying down and repairing gas mains and currently works in the natural gas pressure department for the same company. If ever there was a man for the job, he was it.
Despite his frustration that I had not assimilated the information that he had already shared with me over the years (you know, when it had less meaning and relevance than it suddenly had that morning), he helped me. The short story is that he told me how to turn my hot water heater back on. Most importantly, he explained it to me. As we spoke on the phone, my anxiety diminished and I gained confidence in my ability to remedy the problem at hand as he took 15 minutes to help me understand how the natural gas was delivered to my home and the safeguards that are in place on my own individual hot-water heater. He patiently explained how there were automatic shutoffs in place to prevent naive homeowners from blowing themselves up in an epic and tragic fireball.
The next morning, as I stood beneath the comfortably hot water rinsing the Head and Shoulders from my scalp, something occurred to me: my father “gets” me. I had woken him when I called and he could have just gone back to bed after telling me what to do, but he knows that I have anxiety issues; he knew I was in a fearful state. He knew that the only thing that was going to make me feel better, reduce my fear and keep me from calling him again in another year (with the same problem) was to take time, without judging me for what I didn’t know, and explain to me something I did not understand.
Now we can both sleep well at night.