So, my Nest has been ruffled has it?

Okay, I know I’m a little slow with a new post this week, but hopefully you will somewhat understand the reason when you’re through reading it.
The last six weeks have brought home some forgotten elements of how we react to events in our lives. I had forgotten, or at least paid little attention to, a lesson that was learned over twenty years ago. Six weeks ago I chronicled the sudden interruption in my life as a result of a simple leak in the water supply line on the toilet in my bathroom. Since the initial clean up at that time, absolutely nothing had been done to begin putting my home back in order. I had learned to live without electricity in two-thirds of the downstairs and the appearance of a disaster area there, and in a portion of my bedroom. I said, “learned to live with,” I did not, however, say that I’d become comfortable or happy with it.
Twenty-five years ago I landed my first job in the home remodeling industry and was fully expecting to learn new things about construction and kitchen and bath remodeling, which I did. The lesson which I had no idea was waiting for me was one which I was slow to learn.
I would meet some absolutely lovely people along the way. They would tell me what they had in mind for their home; I would visit the home and gather all the information necessary to begin making the changes and improvements they had in mind. Drawings would be prepared, eventually they would approve of what was proposed, a contract would be drawn up stating in detail what was to be done, what each element was going to cost and they would give me a deposit so the process could proceed. During this phase, the relationship I had with them would be excellent. Soon, however, as the time for the actual process of doing the work neared, one of them and at times both of them, would begin to morph into what I considered nut cases. Dr. and Mrs. Jekyll would become Mr. and Mrs. Hyde.
I couldn’t understand for the life of me what had happened. Had I done something to offend them? Had they misunderstood something in the contract and were now having second thoughts? It was baffling to say the least. I don’t remember what event or series of events occurred, which finally triggered a revelation for me, but eventually I did figure out what was happening.
Home is our refuge. Home is where we retreat from the eyes and ears of the world. Home is where we generally feel the safest and most protected. Home is where we can shed everything from our clothes to our pretenses in absolute safety if that’s what we choose to do. Home is our nest and that is what it’s all about.
It made not a whit of difference to my customers that they had asked for it, paid for it, invited us to disrupt their lives, because they didn’t foresee the emotions and feelings that would be generated by the process of some total stranger coming into their home and, to all intents and purposes, trashing it. Having a total stranger, which in the case of tradesmen can mean a rather scruffy looking character, regardless of how nice they are, or how respectful they are, in your home and in some cases in the very inner sanctum of the master bath, will tend to drive even the most understanding and perceptive of us, crazy; just plain crazy.

What I eventually learned to do was, upon the signing of the contract I
would tell them that quite possibly they would begin to feel nervous and
distraught about what was about to happen. I would tell them that in all likelihood
they would feel violated and upset. I would then tell them that when that
happened they should call me, I would hold the phone at arm’s length, they
could shout and scream for a bit and then we would get on with improving their
home. Often I would get a call from the homeowner telling me that they were
indeed nervous and thanks for the warning. Never once did I have to hold the
phone at arm’s length after that.
The understanding that I eventually acquired by a process resembling osmosis was, however, pretty much academic until one morning in the late summer of 1996 when our own nest was suddenly disrupted by a faulty valve on a water softener. We awakened that morning to a truly “sunken” living room. I quickly learned what it was to have total strangers all over our home, at what seemed to be all hours of the day and night. I felt violated. I felt vulnerable and unsafe. Now at last, I was truly empathetic to the emotions experienced by my customers, especially those whose homes and lives were disrupted by the unexpected such as a flood, or worse fire. In those cases, more than the inconvenience of disruption, the loss of precious possessions is tragic.
So, even though I’ve been there, done that before, it’s been an unnerving six weeks and counting. I find that to bring perspective to my life it’s necessary for me to consider what the people in the path of Hurricane Sandy have been forced to endure; damage far worse than I’ve suffered. And the horror of what the victims of the terror in Boston last Monday leaves me with a sense of shame that I should have uttered even the slightest complaint for the events of my life. Their “homes” have been damaged far worse than anything I can imagine, and will never be the same again; not ever. There is no way to give advance notice of such horror, and tragedy, such I was able to give to my customers. Given the alternative; thank you Abba for the blessing of a mere leak in my bathroom.

Oh keep your damned jack …

Years ago, when I was much younger and under the impression that I was much wiser, I had a revelation. The revelation was the result of wishful thinking, the associated anticipation that always resulted, and the subsequent disappointment when the anticipated occurrence failed to materialize. On the other hand life seemed to be filled with events that were totally unforeseen.
Who knows how many years I engaged in what Granny referred to as daydreaming, and never, not one single solitary time, did the wishful thoughts materialize into reality. Instead, life seemed to be a never-ending series of unexpected events. I finally reached a conclusion that would become a never-ending source of unhappiness.
I concluded that since dreams never materialized into happy events and unhappy events were always seemed to be the result of a failure to anticipate, that I should forever give up anticipating a bright future and instead concentrate on all the things that could conceivably go wrong. It was my own version of reverse psychology.
If I found myself daydreaming about a possible happy event, I would immediately force myself to conjure up every conceivable disaster imaginable, whether it related to the original daydream or not. The idea of course was that if I concentrated on disaster and unhappy events they would never materialize and it actually seemed to work. Of course, the unintended result was that I was terminally miserable.
In a speech at Wayne State University in the mid ‘60s, Dr. Wayne Dyer described the phenomenon this way: suppose you have a flat tire and find you have no jack, but you have a friend who lives nearby. You start walking to his house and as you walk you began preparing yourself for disappointment like, “he won’t be home”, “he won’t have a jack even if he is home,” “he won’t come to the door,” “he won’t let you borrow the jack even if he is home and answers the door, because you borrowed something else once never returned it.” When you finally get to his home and he comes to the door you are so tuned to the negative, you say, “Oh keep your damned jack.” And you leave without the jack.
Well, that was my life in a nutshell. It should have been no big surprise to find that I was a hopeless alcoholic by the time I was 40 years old. Today I don’t waste time conjuring up potential disasters. Instead, I prefer to focus on actual current disasters, like the flood in my townhouse, and continually remind myself of my all-time favorite saying, “Worry is only the interest you pay on trouble before you have it.”

Gifts … Received and Given

There is a plaque hanging on the wall of a meeting hall that I used to visit from time to time, that has a message inscribed on it which I think that our community of gender-variant people should take up as our mission statement, or at least make a part of our mission statement. The plaque, crudely made and difficult to read if you are not standing directly in front of it, reads as follows:

“What we are is God’s gift to us.
What we do with it is our gift to God.”

There are, all too frequently, things in our lives that we fail to see for what they are. We see a glass half empty that we should see as half full, blessings we see as burdens and opportunities we see as obligations. Many times we accept the incorrect opinion as gospel truth simply because of the source. At other times we can receive something of nearly incalculable value and very nearly cast it to the trash, simply because it isn’t what we had asked for.
As a child I frequently received gifts for birthdays and Christmas which I just wasn’t thrilled about at all, because they were practical. Practical meant they were no fun at all … like sweaters and socks. What good were those things to the “Cisco Kid”? There were things that I received that had absolutely no functional value at all, like an Engineer Ron doll. It wasn’t even good for a collector’s item. And then there was the present I was given at birth that took me a long time to appreciate.
For many years I looked upon that “present” as more of a curse; a possession to be boxed, tied and placed on the uppermost shelf of the closet. I treated this present as I treated other possessions that I had received as gifts but didn’t particularly appreciate. You know the kind I’m talking about; the purple glass grapes from Aunt Lizavie, the tie with the collies on it from Uncle Howard. I couldn’t throw them away. That would be unkind and besides, you never knew when they might come in handy. You know, for a gag gift. You couldn’t take them out and put them where anyone might see them because nobody else liked seeing them. And you certainly couldn’t throw them away because you never knew when the giver might come for a visit and expect to see the present in use.
So, there it sits in the closet on the uppermost shelf, practically forgotten for a considerable period of time. Then one day, out of the clear blue sky comes this desire to take the box down, open it and really examine it. Was it actually how I remembered it? It wasn’t. I found it to be a thrilling and enjoyable possession. The problem was that no one else wanted it out in the open for people to see. I think about this every time I see the movie, “A Christmas Story”.
I think everyone has seen that movie at least once and remembers the absolute joy “the old man” expressed over his “award”. Even more memorable is how his wife felt, upon seeing the “award”. It was a lamp, which was a replica, life-sized no less, of woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking, which lit up from the top of the sleazy fringed shade to the toe of the high-heeled shoe. The old man insisted on placing it right in the middle of the front room window for the whole world to see. Mother, like many of the people in my life didn’t overtly express her feelings although she did make it clear that she wasn’t really thrilled with the spectacle, now visible to the entire neighborhood. The old man nevertheless was as happy as a clam until Mother managed to “accidentally” knock it off the table, breaking it into a number of pieces; pieces which like Humpty Dumpty could never be put together again.
Most of the people in my life at that time, especially my bride, made their feelings and opinion of my gift perfectly clear. Figuratively speaking my bride knocked my award off the table so no one could see it either. Luckily in my case it was not broken beyond redemption. But I decided that maybe it wasn’t such a keen gift after all and back on the shelf, boxed and tied it went.
And so it went for many years. With increasing frequency I just had to take the box down, open it up and see if the “present” was now as I remembered it. It was. Always! And always it was not appreciated by others who saw it. So I would always re-assess my feelings about it and put it back in the box, tie it up and put it back on the shelf. A couple of times I even threw it away. I thought. But it would always end up back in my closet, up there on the shelf.
Finally, after many tortured years I decided that I could no longer keep this up. But what could I do about it? I couldn’t return it because I didn’t have a clue who or where it came from. I decided to join a group of people who had the same dilemma in an effort to find out what other people did with this “present” that was neither asked for nor wanted. It was just enjoyed. That didn’t really help. I still had the problem. I had this “thing” that no one else around me appreciated and I didn’t really appreciate either because it caused so much turmoil in my life. Just the same I was drawn to it as a moth to a flame.
I don’t know how many times I said a prayer which went something like this: “God, it’s yours. I’m at a loss. If you don’t want me to have it or enjoy it please, please take it away. If I’m supposed to have it and enjoy it please find some way to let me know it.” Years went by and it was still there. At last I said another prayer. “Ok God, I accept it as a gift and not a curse. I will never again treat it as a curse, but I need your help to show me what to do with it.” A calmness of spirit settled over me. A sense of peace wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket on a cold night.
It took a couple of years for me to take the possession down from the closet shelf, open it up and throw away the box and place it where others could see it. When I did, those who had most wanted it gone began to see it in a different light. And it was then, and only then, that I saw it for what it was, a precious “Gift from God.” It is gift to be shared happily with others, a gift to be used for good as my gift to God.