Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I can't lift that ladder anymore

We make a big deal in Buddhism about change.  When Suzuki Roshi was asked to summarize the teachings, he said, "Things change."  When you first read that you think, well sure, every cell in my body is new every seven years (though that may be a science-urban legend).  Sure, the seasons change.  But there must be more to it than that, or Suzuki wouldn't have made a point of it.

What if we finish the sentence like this:  Things change but we don't want to.  Or, Things change but we refuse to acknowledge that.

Looking over the mistakes in my own and others' lives, I suspect what we most don't want to change is our concepts - our self-concepts and our dreams.  When a dear older relative found, in his eighties, that he could no longer lift the extension ladder against the house, he was amazed.  I don't know how many times he brought that up with the same wonderment in his face and voice.  "I can't lift that ladder anymore!"  He and his wife shared the delusion that they would never age, the belief that you could avoid aging by staying active.  They had to change some of their habits with age and illness, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't touched their fundamental conviction that they are not really old.  And it's clear that they will never give up the falling-down house in which they can no longer climb the steps.

As faithful readers know, seven weeks ago I received a healthy kidney from a living donor.  This is a miracle any way you look at it, and for someone who's been very low kidney function for several years, it's promising to be a resurrection.  On good days, my mind is clearer and brighter than I can remember it being.  (On bad days I remember that I'm still getting the steroids out of my system.)  This is background to what happened yesterday.

It began with a kitchen-table talk about getting new gutters, a job we expect to cost thousands in this sprawled-out one-story house, and which we agreed to do last spring, but which hasn't even been estimated yet - and now it's snowing.  There are at least three fairly urgent reasons for doing these gutters.

But what it became was a discussion of whether, actually, we want to keep living in this house.  Imagine my surprise.  This is our dream house, we love many things about it, including the neighborhood and the neighbors.  But you know, it's a house.  A homeowner is responsible for the roof, the gutters, keeping the driveway shoveled (which neither of us can do), keeping the front porch ice-free, on and on.

When we bought this house in the fall of 2004, we were delighted with it.  We were leaving a house that had become more and more problematic as Tom couldn't do stairs anymore.  At that time we didn't really consider not buying a house, getting a condo or renting, caught in our own concepts about how to live.  Since then I have often dreamed of life in a simple 8x10 room in which there is no kitchen, no responsibilities, pretty much nothing but me and Tom, our computers, and a cat.  Getting things done around here became much harder as my kidney functions fell dramatically, as Tom's post-polio increased so that he had to retire.  Then I got serious enough lymphedema in my right arm, when an elevator door struck it hard, so I could no longer do some of the ordinary things that need to be done, like wash windows and vacuum.  So things changed.  And we always tried to accomodate that, but never thought about moving.

This is a bigger story than that - Tom's recent frightening fall with amnesia, and my own desire to be free to have a life again that my mind is fresher and I'm not exhausted all the time.  Suffice it to say that yesterday we were surprised to find ourselves discussing whether we'd rather sell this house and rent somewhere, maybe the pretty apartment village we started out in.  Maybe things like figuring out the gutter problem are taking too much of our limited energy.  This possibility emerged as we talked, having been gathering itself in our unconscious minds, I guess.

Looking at it, we realized how many things have changed since we bought this house.  Things change, and your old plan isn't going to work.  There is a saying in the military - I'm not sure of the exact wording - Once the first shot is fired, the plan goes all to hell.  A truth applicable to many situations in life.
[image:  Snow shovel, by Tom Tucker]

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