Saturday, August 29, 2009

A very odd feeling

I'm not a big home handyman. Ellen doesn't keep a "Job Jar" of the type Blondie kept for Dagwood, and if I'm doing pick-up work, it's most likely to be on the keyboard rather than with wood boards.

Not that I can't do what's needed about the house (though I need to psych myself up for it at times) - I can plumb and drywall and nail and lay flooring if necessary. I might let the earliest signs of a problem slip for a while, but eventually a little voice in my head nags me with, "You can't let that go on!" So I'll eventually drag out the toolkit and reseat the toilet or nail down the loose boards or whatever, if for no other reason than I don't want the house deteriorating over the years. This custodial instinct was taught me by my dad, and though it isn't as strong in me as it was in him, it's still there.

Which is why that drip in the bathroom sink is annoying me so much.

You see, we're the last residents of our house, and we won't be residing here much longer. We've lived here for 24 years, raised our six children here, and will be moving out before Christmas, possibly before Thanksgiving. Our property lies within the footprint of a major public works project, so the state is buying up our home under eminent domain. It will eventually be demolished, along with every other home along our stretch of street. We received the state's offer earlier this month, signed the acceptance papers this week, and will be closing on the sale sometime in September. We'll have 90 days from the closing to move out, at which point the utilities will be shut off and the house will stand vacant until the bulldozers come to raze it.

This being the case, it makes no sense to do any long-term maintenance on the property. Sprucing anything up, or even patching something that's deteriorating, won't make a bit of difference to the state (much less the bulldozers.) We've known this for years, and haven't done any major improvements for years (which explains the state of our garage). But it's now at the point that even the most trivial of repairs aren't even worth it.

Like the bathroom faucet I mentioned. It's dripping again, and I know just how to fix it. The parts cost less than $3 at Home Depot, and it's ten minutes with screwdrivers and pliers. Nothing to it.

But it's not even worth burning the gas to drive to the store for the parts. In the brief amount of time we have left in the house, the amount of water that'll drip out that faucet is so trivial that it's not worth any effort to repair.

That's the odd feeling. That custodial instinct keeps yammering, "yes, but over time that problem will...", but my reason knows that "over time" doesn't matter in these unusual circumstances. Thus I find myself looking at the slowly dripping water, or the weeds in the yard, or the posts of the garage porch, and realizing that there's no point in doing anything about any of it. In a matter of weeks, the property will be vacant and shut down, the lawns mowed by state contractors. The state of the siding or the weeds in the driveway cracks won't matter to anyone.

In a way it's relieving not have to worry about these small matters, and I'm sure my custodial instinct will have plenty to work with once we move into whatever house we end up with. But for now, it's odd to be enduring this little contest between my subconscious and my reason.

I think I'll go shut the bathroom door.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Two important phrases

One of my daughters has a job abroad this summer as a nanny. With her kind and outgoing personality, not to mention lots of experience with nieces and nephews, she's a natural for child care.

But she's found out something interesting with her little charges, a seven year old boy and a three year old girl. Being children of a well-to-do family (the sort that can afford a foreign nanny for the summer), they've been raised with pretty much everything handed to them. My daughter, who is supposed to expose them to English, is finding that another vital part of her job is exposing them to the two critical phrases that make so much difference in human interaction:

Please and Thank You.

When I was young, my mother and father drilled into us the importance of saying “please” and “thank you” asking things of others. I always thought of it as good manners, and continued the habit with my own children. As soon as they were able to understand, requests had to be accompanied by “please”, and “thank you” was demanded whenever something was done for them. They learned, because they had no option – and now they are teaching those same manners to their children (or nieces and nephews, as the case may be.)

Perhaps it's the distance of grandparenting, but as I watch this habit of courtesy being inculcated into the next generation, I'm appreciating that this simple habit is more than just a social habit, a mannerly convention. I'm seeing that making these simple phrases part of our basic human interaction radically affects how we view and deal with others.

I've heard it said that we humans are at a sensory disadvantage when it comes to how we perceive the world. From our earliest days, our senses tell us that we're at the center of the universe. What we see, hear, feel, and so on gives us the impression that the world does revolve around us. Only what others tell us, how they treat us, and how we're taught to treat them, can disabuse us of that notion.

Learning to ask “please” is an important tool in that effort. When we use that phrase, we acknowledge the humanity of the other person. We're not treating them as a means to an end, but as an equal, of whom we are making a request. I think this is particularly important for children to learn toward parents, because parents actually are de facto slaves to their children when they are young and dependent. Even young children are not stupid, and can realize that those big people are pretty much at their beck and call. But when they get old enough to realize that they can exploit this, they can begin to learn that important phrase that forces them to realize that Mom & Dad – and everyone else – are to be treated with dignity.

Thanks are what we offer when we appreciate something that has been done for us. It is a simple expression of gratitude – but gratitude does not come naturally. Those under the illusion that the universe revolves around them do not express gratitude. Only those who have learned that it doesn't realize that grace is part of existence, and gifts should be appreciated. Interestingly, learning to express thanks cultivates the realization that the universe doesn't revolve around us. Learning thanks is not only an expression of maturity, but a path to it.

It is to my parent's credit that I was grown and out into the world before I learned what the phrase “treating someone like an object” even meant. I'd heard it, but it mystified me. I only came to understand it when I encountered people who did that. Oddly, those were the very people who so rarely said “please” and “thank you”.

I wonder if there was a connection?