Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Things Fall Apart

This is the title of a very famous book written by Chinua Achebe that Jessica and I read while she was a student, many years ago, at Germantown Friends School. I highly recommend it. Suffice it to say that, as ingrained as our acceptance of tradition may be, nothing lasts unchanged, except perhaps in our memories. There, if we are lucky, reside untarnished, pleasant memories of days gone by, stylized, enhanced, and comforting. When things fall apart, we are challenged to make our way in life discomfited, without the misguided certainty that what existed yesterday will be there for us tomorrow. Being human, we seem to count on this no matter what the evidence to the contrary. Perhaps that is why people commit suicide, mistakenly thinking that tomorrow will be just as painful as (or more painful than) today. As far as I can tell, death is the only thing about life that is permanent and unchanging, and I can wait for that. In contrast to my intellectual understanding that I need to appreciate all the pleasures of today, I find that, humanly and viscerally, I cannot begin to appreciate every little thing that goes right in my day. And when dumb little things go wrong, they upset me beyond what I think should be a logical reaction to them. Such was my week.

It began with a rather large tree falling down in the strong winds that assaulted us for a few days. Seeing it lying there upset me beyond all logical reasoning. The tree, a birch, was one of the few that we were able to save when we built our house 18 years ago. When it grew large enough, after about 10 years, we were able to attach our hammock to it and spend many pleasant hours there. Intellectually, I know that we were very lucky because it could have come down when someone was in the hammock and it could have maimed or killed. It could have hit the house or deck and caused major property damage. It could have landed on my quince trees and damaged them. It could have damaged a large fir tree, or it could have blocked a neighbor’s driveway. If I could have picked the spot ahead of time, I could not have picked a better, more innocuous way for it to fall. Yet looking at the bare spot left in my landscape, I felt only sadness at the change in my view.

Another hassle was with our thermostat as temperatures began to drop in the crisp autumn weather. On the evening of the day that our hvac people came to service our heater, our electronic thermostat went blank and our heat went off. We huddled under our down comforter waiting for our trusty guys to come and replace it the next day. Feeling the chill and suffering the insecurity of this uncomfortable, albeit temporary, change, I struggled intellectually with appreciating that it could have been a much colder evening, the comforter thinner, and our service people could have been much slower to respond and fix the problem.

Having had the house up for sale, we have been discussing updating our large kitchen. I love my Wood-Mode laminated white cabinets with red oak trim, but I know that the look, while extremely practical, is very dated. This week, a hinge broke, causing a small, repairable crack in the outside edge of the laminate, and forcing Saul to remove the door. The gaping hole of the cabinet I can no longer close until we get the new hinge is also annoying me beyond all reason. I should probably take it as a sign that I really should replace the doors with something more up-to-date.

In between these petty annoyances are all the really great parts of my week—meeting Roxy and Adele for lunch at Wegman’s; and the following week meeting Roxy for lunch at Blue Sage; having dinner with Faith at Thai Orchid and attending her intellectually stimulating class on Thursday mornings; hearing Yona say “Shabbat Shalom” on the telephone as clear as a bell; listening to Izzy tell about losing her six baby teeth in the space of two weeks; speaking with Jessica every morning as she drives to work and Ari every evening as he drives home from work; and having a delicious and very inexpensive early bird dinner at the Fireside Bar and Grill with Larry, his sister, Susan, and her husband, Ted.

Only Larry and Beth joined us this week for Shabbat dinner. I baked fresh challah, made cold strawberry soup and a Capresé salad with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil from my garden. We had leftover Mediterranean vegetable lasagna from the freezer as our main course, and for dessert we had whipped-cream-topped, Costco-bought, pumpkin pie and a huge chocolate and caramel-covered Granny Smith apple with our pumpkin flavored French-press coffee. Saul spent long hours over the weekend on his responsibilities for Chestnut Hill College, which gave me a chance to spend long hours on my desktop publishing work. Finally, taking a break on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we got away for a few hours and visited an art gallery in Lansdale called “Water,” where an associate of Saul and Larry, and a mentor of Larry’s brother-in-law’s granddaughter, has some works of glass on exhibit. When we arrived, a short distance down the block, a street fair was in progress outside of a new tavern called Molly MacGuire’s. There was a band, teenagers in costume performing Irish dances, children and adults carving pumpkins, and the usual assortment of vendors selling everything from Phillies sweatshirts to jewelry.

My work has been very frustrating this week as the people with whom I am working on this new publication do not have a full understanding of what it is that I do, and I am having trouble explaining the technical aspects of my work to people who have no technical expertise. They are very nice people, so I guess we will work it out to everyone’s satisfaction eventually.

In spite of the fact that we can be sure, in this universe, that things fall apart, I will continue to strive for the day-to-day appreciation of the myriad of wonderful blessings in my life which I so take for granted, and try not to let depression, pessimism, and pettiness get the better of me.

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