Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Voice of reason

Major decisions seem to daunt me these days. Recently I've struggled with the question of whether or not to try to sell my house, then buy in the downtown neighborhood I obsess over.

I've been through hell and high water of my own making. (There's nothing wrong with my existing house, located 7 miles from downtown on one of the world's largest public rose gardens.) I've made THE DECISION numerous times, only to flip back the next day.

This week I went so far as to call the realtor over to my house so that he could initiate the listing process. He photographed each room, advised me on what needed to happen before the open house this Sunday, and we filled out the paperwork. Before he left he planted the "For Sale" sign firmly in the ground.

That same day, another house, 2 houses down from the one I wanted originally, went on the market. This changed everything. I liked this new house, but it had certain drawbacks, like no garage. But it was cheaper.

The main effect of the new house was that it caused me to lose interest in the original, more expensive house. When I sat down looking at the photos of the new house, I glanced around at the place I already own, with its "For Sale" sign out front, and said to myself, "This is crazy. I'd be selling this house on the park in great condition for this dilapidated old thing downtown with no garage and one measly bathroom."

I called the realtor and told him I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into, but it was wrong. He told me to uproot his "For Sale" sign and bring it to his office. He's letting me off the hook. Again.

Yes, I'm relieved, because getting my house ready to sell was absolutely exhausting. Now that I'm off the hook again, I can attempt to live my life instead of constantly working on the house.

Yet I am nagged by the thought of a pedestrian lifestyle in a bustling neighborhood that could have been. The suburbs don't suit me well. According to studies of the psychology of space (where we live), most Americans don't even realize what they are missing by living in the suburbs. The sense of community created by front porches, sidewalks and neighborhood grocery stores and coffee shops is virtually unknown to many of us.

I grew up with front porches, sidewalks and neighborhood grocery stores. I walked everywhere, even in college, and felt empowered by that. Where I live now, the car is not only mandatory- it rules. Pedestrians, though rare, must yield to the SUV.

Let's hope that my dream of moving is simply being delayed a bit due to the fact that the right house at the right price is not available right now. That's why my resistance was so strong. When the right situation arises, I will carry out the work with ease.

And meanwhile, I will be figuring out what improvements I can make in my life without buying a new house.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


The mind is swirling, whirling with lots of wondering. Most of all, I'd like to know where to find clarity. I have only speculation, and lots of it.

My last post told of my friend Jim's death from cancer. Many attended his well-planned funeral, and afterwards his wife invited the entire gathering to their house. Finally I got to see what Jim had described to me as "a Harley-Davidson in the living room". The house appeared to feature 3 different living rooms, one of which really did harbor a large motorcycle missing some parts, such as handlebars. And I saw the side-by-side Lazy Boys from which he and his wife reportedly shouted together at CNN over political matters. The house was filled with people, chatter, laughter, food, beverages, and even a keg of beer.

It was great, but why couldn't we have done that with Jim living? Why wait until a person is dead before having people over? Personally, I was bothered and was happy to flee early to get to the sitter's house on time.

Then I started wondering what my late buddy would say to me if I could now ask him for advice on my house dilemma. From his new perspective in some other plane, he would surely say,"Betty, enjoy your life. If you want to live downtown, sell your house and move there. Now that I'm dead, if wish I'd finished putting together that Harley that's sitting in my living room back home on earth... I never rode it. We don't regret the things we did. We regret the things we didn't do."

Then a friend who also knew Jim told me that Jim had left his family with an enormous financial debt. Enormous, as in hundreds of thousands of dollars. This friend suggested that Jim's imagined message to me from the grave might have more to do with thrift and responsibility. Hmmmm....

Clarity, why do you insist upon eluding me? Why do your messengers continually contradict one another? Why does Bill tell me to go, and Jill to stay? How is a whirling dervish supposed to know what to do? I want to do the right thing, the best thing. Why should the identity of the right, the best, remain concealed? Why is my sincerity apparently unrewarded?

I teach my child indecision. On Monday he wants to move. On Tuesday, of course, he wants to stay, having re-discover the wonders of the finished basement. He is his mother's son, much more than we'd prefer. Wednesday, though, he'll be ready to move again. If I do ever move, I'll have to time it carefully to fit his switching schedule.

One time, riding a great wave of truth, I emphatically instructed my son on how to seek the answers from inside himself. It was a day when I had been transported from my self temporarily. With enthusiasm, I assured him that the answer was always there, right inside of himself, free for the asking.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Effect of Jim

I've had a vague awareness, throughout my recent house decision-making process, that the attendant stress was entirely of my own making. Nobody held a gun to my head and demanded that I self-torture over housing. In fact, I was never even unhappy with my current living situation. Change was not necessary; the thought of it, though, was entertainment, and distraction for sure- distraction from real life, I'm afraid.

Sadly, I was given a whole new perspective today which rendered my house decision "suffering" irrelevant. A co-worker, a cherished buddy (as much as a married man can be to a single whirling dervish) died of cancer last night. I am one of many people trying to imagine the workplace minus the major presence of Jim, who loved his career so much that he continued to function brilliantly at work even as the cancer ravaged his body practically beyond recognition.

Of course my mind automatically dredged up the highlights of my memories of Jim, of our many frank discussions of work matters, clowning around to keep things light, and because he was the only one who could talk me into it, socializing after work.

I keep replaying the last conversation I had with him, just 2 weeks ago. I received his message, reluctantly.

The exchange took place at work. Sick as he was, he still managed to keep showing up and doing his job, while others took days off for sore throats and hangnails. I knew he was worried about what would happen to his wife and children, but I didn't want to directly address the topic of his death. I didn't know that he was going to die. And if the thought did cross my mind, I sure as heck didn't want to let on, lest his hope be dashed. Yet I wanted to somehow reassure him.

Without planning this, I found myself telling him about Charles, the widower of another co-worker of ours who died of cancer 2 years ago. I have stayed in touch with him by telephone at least once a week since his wife died. I told Jim this, and added that I was planning to take Charles, even though his health was failing, to a concert the next week.

Jim's eyes widened and locked with mine. "It's REALLY good that you're doing that, Betty....... It's REALLY GOOD."

I can still see the look on his face. I think he had received my message, too.