Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Water, water

Nearly every day lately, clouds darken, thunder growls, and torrents of summer rain gush from the sky. It’s too much for my downspouts. Water overflows the roof and soaks the back of my house. I called the gutter guy. Again. I have an ugly history with water so I take no chances.

I’m wondering if there are some minor water gods whom I have offended. I’m deep into a love/hate relationship with water and I fear they’ve got the upper hand.

In a nominal effort to appear to be an optimist, let me first discuss the love. The universe is divided into two camps—bath people and shower people. (There also may be a third outlier camp of people who don’t bathe at all, but I presume they live in hand-built cabins in Montana where they build bombs with paper clips and elk droppings and have not communicated with other living beings since the dawn of the millennium.) I am firmly in the bath camp. I can’t sleep if I don’t take a bath. I spend my entire day counting down the hours until I can take a bath. I sometimes take more than one bath in a day and it’s a sacred ritualistic thing for me, well beyond being clean. Candles, lavender bath oil, Spanish monks singing Gregorian chant, the whole works.

I love water. But my hate of water is also fierce and unrelenting. I hate the free-range water in my house.

The first serious incident happened about ten years ago. I noticed the carpet in the corner of my basement, at the foot of the stairs, was discolored. After pulling out large pieces of drywall on two floors, the plumber found that there was a leak in a waste water pipe. It was expensive and messy. I thought I had paid my dues to the water gods.

A few years later, I called the refrigerator repair person because my icemaker wasn’t working. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the refrigerator—it was the water line to the refrigerator. Next step—the plumber. Okay, fixed. Or so I thought. The water gods were snickering. Later that evening I went into the basement to get a light bulb. Water was running down the basement walls like a waterfall in a fancy hotel lobby. I had to turn off the water main to get it to stop. Something in the icemaker water line had failed. Plumbers, drywall repair, paint, carpets pulled up, more mess. The water gods were having a fiesta.

Next? A puddle of water under the kitchen sink. A friend fixed it for me. Didn’t work. I put a metal pan under the drip. I emptied it daily, offering my little daily homage to the water gods. They aren’t easily satisfied.

Spring came. It rained. I smelled something rank in the basement. My family room carpet was soaked and part of the drywall was discolored. My neighbor’s downspout was cracked, causing water to soak the foundation of my house. The man who repaired the carpet from the icemaker leak came back. He’s now on a first-name basis with me since I’m sending one of his kids to college. I paid to fix my neighbor’s drainage and reinforced my own drainage system for another layer of protection. Ha, it is to laugh, said the water gods mockingly, with a decidedly French accent.

Next—more rain, more water in the basement. Not as much water, but still leaking. It appeared that the crown of my chimney (three floors up from the basement) was cracked and water was seeping all the way into the basement fireplace. The carpet repair guy is on speed-dial. Two days of masonry work and a couple of thousand dollars and that leak went away. The water gods were doing high fives. 

Then the hurricane season came and brought a day of torrential rain. A stream of water was flowing out of an electrical outlet in my basement. There was a leak in the window well. I had the window well removed, the wall bricked up and sealed, and had all the drywall repaired. It cost me again. The carpet fixer guy? Not this time. I replaced the carpet with a floating wood-look floor that could be removed in case of flooding. It wasn't cheap. The gods were laughing so hard they had tears streaming down their crummy little faces.

The latest and most horrific episode involved freezing rain and a flat roof—you know what’s coming—it’s an ominous combination. Water was dripping out of one of the ceiling lights in my dining room. The usual first step, I called the plumber who tore big holes in the ceiling. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the plumbing because there is no plumbing in this ceiling; it has to be coming from somewhere else. It escalated—water out of all the ceiling fixtures on the first floor, water running between the walls and seeping up out of the wood floors in the upper level. Water in the basement. I could hear it trickling inside the walls and it was seeping into the house much faster than I could remove it. Long sad story—the roof had cracked under the weight of freezing rain and the ice began to thaw. I screamed out for mercy. Tarp over the roof, clean-up crew, a new roof, removal of ceilings and walls, painting, insurance appraisals, repairs ad nauseum. I know it’s hot in the desert, but I’m willing to give it a try. The water gods wouldn't dare follow me to the desert. Would they?

I suppose I should look at this amount of water in perspective. My first bad water experience involved much, much more water—the Atlantic Ocean. It was the summer I turned 12. My family went to Bethany Beach on the Delaware shore for a day trip. It was hot and the beach was packed blanket-to-blanket with people searching for some respite from the heat. My father stayed on the shore, watching my younger brothers while my mother and I waded into the ocean. We floated in relatively placid surf on a rented rubber raft. There was a growing distance between me and my mother, who was alone on the raft. As I tried to swim back to her, I lost ground, swimming forward but moving backward into the ocean. My feet no longer touched the ocean floor. I was quickly becoming tired as I moved farther from my mother and she began to realize that I was in trouble. After the fact, I knew that she began screaming, but all I knew at the time was sheer terror. I had never heard of a riptide and had no strategy to save myself. A riptide is sort of passive-aggressive water, looks innocent enough but has a really nasty streak. I was gasping, swallowing the ocean, when two lifeguards reached me and put me on a raft. I don’t know how much time elapsed, but as we neared the shore, they asked me if I wanted to ride in on a wave. Bad idea, but I must have agreed. The wave threw me and I washed up on shore like a half-dead mackerel. Obviously much more water than I could handle.

Maybe these water gods who are out to get me have been trying for many years. The lifeguards who saved my life in 1960 thwarted the water gods’ plan to snuff me at an early age so now I’m paying the price one drop at a time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

For longing

blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.
may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.
may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
by John O'Donohue

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Down from the mountain

Photo of sunset, Telluride, Colorado, taken on my 70th birthday. God's gift to me.
The plan was to leave the old hag on the mountain, to let the old woman rot out there in the elements. But she got packed in my suitcase; she’s not leaving me.

Had I written this entry 10 days ago, it would have been different. Ten days ago, I would have said the trip to Colorado was a failure. I couldn’t breathe at the altitude, even though the altitude had not been a major problem in my previous trips to Telluride. In previous trips I was younger. I cut the trip short, lost 10 days at the condo that I had paid in advance, and flew home from 10,000 feet to an altitude of one foot above sea level. That’s a lot more oxygen and a relief to be able to breathe deeply.
The bold adventure in which I planned to spend a month alone, high in the Rocky Mountains, failed. My body bailed on me. My scheme was to spit in the face of my 70th birthday. People were telling me that I was brave, had such independence and spirit. And I gloated about how I was going to sit on the mountain with God, in the “thin space” between heaven and earth, where the voice of the Lord is deafeningly near. I wanted a mystical experience for my 70th birthday and I boldly was going to climb a mountain to get it. But like a scatterbug, I couldn't even focus on communicating with God in Telluride. I blamed Him for not showing up.
The old hag and I flew home to a giant pity party. Disappointment, shame, and embarrassment were at my doorstep. Poor me—I would have to report to all those who thought I was so brave that I failed in the great adventure. But after a few days at sea level the lights came on and I realized that the trip had been motivated, shaped by my desire to do something big, something remarkable. I wanted praise and adulation. My motivation was not so much to be at peace with God for a month but to show people that I could do it. I could see that my thinking was warped and then began to see that the trip wasn’t wasted, even though what it had to teach me was not what I expected. I realized that the entire plan to go to the mountains to scoff at my age and to get some great revelation from God was driven by ego, not by a desire for communion with God. It was totally about me, how I wanted to be seen as independent, adventurous, and deep.
The Lord wanted me to come down from the mountain, both literally and figuratively. He brought me down off my high horse. He didn’t cooperate with my silly ego exercise. He had other plans. He turned my mourning into dancing; He removed my clothes of sadness and clothed me in joy. (Paraphrase of Psalm 30:11.)
Honestly, it’s so good; not what I hoped for, but much, much better. It makes me smile to realize that I thought I had engineered the experience, but God stepped into my self-centered plan and made it infinitely better. It just looked like failure because it wasn’t what I wanted. He said, “Silly girl, why do you have to go high in the Rockies to be with me or to find meaning in your life? You can find those answers in the streets, in the shoe aisle of the thrift store, at the bedside of a dying friend, or in the quiet of your kitchen.”
It’s all good. I didn’t need to be on the mountain with my ego but to come down from the mountain to be with Him. What I thought was failure turned out to be a victory. I wanted to learn something and I did.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Failed minimalist

How long must I stand in the bright light of my closet before I purge the mess in there? How many times will I take out that olive green skirt that’s too tight, only to return it to the rack in case I lose weight? I liked that skirt and it still might work if I lose 10 20 30 pounds. Also, the skirt under discussion comes above my knees and I hate to show my knees. Otherwise, it’s perfect. Perfect for a younger, skinnier, much hipper version of myself.

Like a moth and a lightbulb, I’m drawn to those magazine articles that hype minimalist living. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg has a collection of jeans and black t-shirts, not much else. He has been quite successful and no one criticizes his fashion sense. Image how easy it would be to grab the next clean black t-shirt and head out to make a million dollars for a day’s work.

More times than I can count, when it comes to purging one’s wardrobe, the expert minimalist du jour suggests that you ask yourself, “Would I buy this again?”

My usual answer is, “No! Of course not! I already have an olive green skirt—see it shoved in the back of my closet? Why would I buy another one exactly like it?”

Sometimes the minimalist suggests that the maximalist take everything out of the closet and create three piles: a KEEP pile of things in perfect condition that fit and work for one’s lifestyle, a MAYBE pile for the things that aren’t perfect but are hard to discard, and a DONATE pile of definite give-away items. For the weak, they might suggest putting the MAYBE things in a box to reconsider at a later date. I hate the idea of a MAYBE pile because it would be an indication that I might be indecisive. In theory, I deplore weakness in a closet purger, yet in the end I go through the closet and keep almost everything. What if I do lose a lot of weight and need a black lace mini dress? It’s already there—no need to go shopping.

Years ago my daughter made me discard my two pairs of “parachute pants”—navy and khaki. I loved those pants but she called them “MC Hammer pants” and I caved because she kept saying, “It’s Hammer time.” I miss the pants. They may even be back in style now. What if my granddaughter is going to a 60s party and needs a hippie outfit? Surely, somewhere in the back of the closet, there’s a leather fringe jacket and a long denim skirt that I lovingly sewed out of a pair of deconstructed jeans and a couple of old flannel shirts. Where is that skirt? I might want to wear it again.