How many times have you thought about water in the past week?

Where do you live?

I am fortunate to live in a place (Chicago suburbs) with, relatively speaking, plenty of water. In a typical week, I don’t think about water much at all. Some days I don’t consciously notice it; it’s just always there. But in the past week water has inserted itself in ways I couldn’t help but notice.

I think my raised awareness started when I saw the hot water running out of the bottom of our water heater. It had to be replaced, a process that took about 24 hours. Not long at all in the scheme of things, but nothing brings awareness of convenience so well as its absence. Especially when you’re trapped in the house waiting for the repair man.

With my mind thus attuned to water and its absence, I noticed several water-related news stories. Yemen is experiencing drought and, consequently, food shortages. State politicians in the “Great Lake States” are meeting to discuss how to protect the Great Lakes as our water supply. An e-newsletter I received offered assistance in planting native landscaping, in part because it requires less water than grass and some other popular plants. The latest Mars rover is looking for signs of water on that distant planet. It seems that if I pay attention, I could relate a story I’ve heard about water issues pretty much every day.

But I don’t usually pay that much attention.

Still, water got my attention again. I was at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago over the weekend. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and I was sitting on the low wall/bench along the sides of Crown Fountain. Crown Fountain is a rectangular plaza, about 200 feet long, with a rectangular tower at each end. Water showers straight down the sides of the towers and floods the plaza with an inch or two of water. (Water also occasionally shoots several feet into the plaza from the towers.) Dozens of people were playing in the water on the plaza as I watched.

And as I watched, it struck me how strange all those people playing there really was. Essentially, the fountain is an inch of water on the ground. Sure, you can stand under the showering towers, and plenty of kids were. But many more were playing in the larger space of the plaza and its inch of water. A giant puddle, really. What’s so interesting about an inch of water on the ground? It wasn’t a hot day, with uncomfortable people trying to cool off. It wasn’t just kids playing. It was babies slapping at the water, parents chasing children, teenagers posing in groups and taking pictures with their phones, couples strolling through holding hands. It was all races and, I’m guessing, all economic levels. And it was happening in a place where water is abundant. It’s not like most of these people didn’t have access to water anywhere else. But yet they were all playing – some for quite a long time – in this giant puddle.

And it struck me, as it does from time to time, how elemental water is. How people – all people – are drawn to it, moved to cover themselves in it, share life and community in it, and celebrate a beautiful day in it. The fact that water is essential not just to living but Life is often removed from my day-to-day consciousness. But that day, our connection to this most basic substance of the planet was on display, and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to sit down and notice it.

As we enter the summer months of heat and drying landscapes, I hope to carry with me the remembrance of my water-filled week. I will try to be mindful of not only my own dependence on water, but also the fact that everyone else in the world depends on it, too. May this understanding and awareness shape my actions and make me a better steward of this most elemental aspect of Life. And may you have your own similar moments.

-Nancy Michaelis