You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.
Joni Mitchell is not wrong here, we hardly ever see it coming, and we’re all guilty. It’s not an uncommon thing to under appreciate something in your life. You don’t realise how central it is until it’s no longer there. As humans, we’re pretty bad for this. We take things for granted; we don’t think that we might not have something until we don’t have that thing anymore. It happens all the time and each time it happens, the injustice is palpable. We find it pretty hard to comprehend loss when we’ve had those things before. Our sense of deserving is pretty fierce. It takes a while to come to terms with the fact that maybe, just maybe, things don’t go as planned for us. This sense of loss isn’t limited to the physical world either; it can be anything, literally anything, even just a feeling or a sense of belonging. In one moment, everything can change.
Yesterday our kettle broke and my world fell apart.
I’m not proud that this is one of the bigger concerns in my life, but it had a profound effect on me. I sat struggling to come to terms with the fact that I would have to wait an uncomfortably long time for my cup of tea (stove boiling takes ages). I was bemoaning my situation; how could, in the 21st century, a man be expected to go without a functioning kettle. The injustice! How can a society call itself civilised when, in this day and age, an element on a rudimentary kitchen appliance can plunge a day into such a pit of darkness. My rueful murmurings were in vain as I attempted to sweet-talk my boiling friend back to life, alas no. I was without easy-boiling water. I sat there, not knowing what to do. I cried.
Then I ordered a new one on Amazon Prime and went about my day, slightly less caffeinated than I would have liked.
After a while, something weird happened. I started to think. I began to realise how pathetic I was being. There is so much going on in the world – famine, drought, chauvinistic presidents dismantling everything their country stands for (cough, the orange one, cough), terrorism, too many things to name – that my kettle was entirely insignificant and I had no right to complain. I was disgusted by my insular, self-absorbed world view. People don’t have access to clean water, and here I was having to boil mine in my central-heated (not that we can afford to use it), cosy (it’s v. cold) safe flat. And worse, I was complaining about it, feeling hard done to. Then another thought hit me, this was a problem to me, and it was ok that I was upset about it. Me having a kettle or not doesn’t hinder my ability to feel compassion for others, nor would me forgoing my kettle in a magnanimous act of self-denial help in any way.
The truth of the matter is that problems that affect people are exactly that, problems. For me, my kettle is comfort; it’s a way to take time out for myself and to relax. The simplicity of a boiling kettle is incredible. The knowledge than in a few brief minutes I’ll have a mug of brewing tea excites me (not like that). The loss of my kettle mattered to me, and that’s ok. The world is shite, and I need those few minutes of boiling bliss. People need things to get them through the day, and that is entirely ok. Then say you should never watch a kettle boil, and for good reason, the palpable anticipation that you get just from the noise is enough. If I watched it too… phew, I don’t know if I could contain myself.