vendredi 31 octobre 2008

When a renovation is not only a renovation


The shutters

and anger


I have a lot on my mind today. I learned that I had earned the anger of some people I know, but do not know, who know me, but do not know me.

It causes me to put a lot of things in question that I already do, in fact. Like why I write here, and why I participate in a chat room -- CHAOS, watching the Obama sign --, as well as why I remain active in the MYBO listservs. They are similar, but they are not the same.

The charge leveled at me was that I am wrong to talk about the renovations on my home, and more specifically to worry that the color of the natural stucco for the walls might not be right, might not match the sample selected from among a number of tries. I heard the charge; I was told I was shallow and lacking in humanity. There are far greater problems in the world than the color of my walls, and who gives a damn about them?

Only you.

You, and you go on and on about it, as though we should care. You have the fortune to live in a house (a mansion was a word used to describe it, as if) and you are worried about the color of your damn walls, when other people face real problems.

Of which you know nothing.

And I face mine, of which you know nothing.

Anger was what I heard. Anger with a dose of righteousness and frustration. The demand that we all be the same, the beast of class warfare raised its head and called for mine.

"It is Europeans I have found to be the most brutal of people with one another," I said to my son, shaken.

"It's because of Karl Marx," he replied, "and communism. It has made them very angry."

The color matters, I told them. It matters because it is a question of professional integrity and honor. We are not wealthy people. God knows it. My husband has worked for years for little, giving so much of himself to anyone who would come to him, while many of his colleagues wondered why he bothered with the poor immigrant classes who were covered 100% by the Securité Sociale.

"Because my son is a good man," said my father-in-law one day. His ancestors lost their heads in a certain, bloody revolution. He taught my husband his values, and his attitude about money and the making of it, which he found undignified, somehow wrong, suspicious. It was hard for him to accept that his son should begin to exercise his right to see patients in the private sector.

It was that, or fold.

There were months when he couldn't buy oil to turn the furnace on, while the government paid for the heat in the apartments in which his poorest patients lived, and paid him the smallest salary possible to see them at no charge. He earned about what I did in the States as an architect, while he was called to face life and death situations in the hospital, potentially, at any given moment.

Money. The arguments and the struggles that surround money. The pain it has caused.

I think about it a lot, what money, the having and the not having of it means. One thing that I see is that not having it doesn't make you a better person, or, as Joaquim says, "Being poor doesn't give you a monopoly on humanity." It can make you mean.

Just like having a lot of it can make you mean.

And my mason's word matters because I deliberately hired an artisan, someone who cares like I do about the built environment and the passing along of trades. I want him to be true to his word, it means something to us. My husband trusted me, and I want to live up to that confidence. And, I hired an artisan because he is the master of his own work. What do we build today, I asked? Cheap little houses by the hundreds.

"Oh, I need to go clean my cheap little house," someone tossed off.

"You are not hearing me. I didn't call your house "cheap" or "little". I was not talking about your house. I am talking about what men in suits who don't give a shit about their laborers, because that's what they think they are hiring and what they want to hire -- contract laborers -- build and sell to people today, and their laborers go unpaid for their services, the houses fall apart and ruin the integrity of the built environment, in which Europe has so long taken pride."

"While you live in your mansion," another voice sneered.

"Yes, and they build cheap mansions, too, that fall apart and are as much a blight on the landscape, and they walk away with profits and care nothing about their product or those who build it. I hire people who pass on knowledge, a heritage, a skill, and who work for themselves to feed their families." And it is our savings. It is what we care about.

"Ah, so you're 'spreading the wealth'," said another.

Is it wrong? We are not wealthy, but we are participating in the economic system, or as Joaquim also said, "What would they prefer, that everyone be 'poor' so that no one could hire anyone and we live in total misery, or that we participate according to our means to sustain the lives of as many as possible?"

"What is wrong with being rich?" asked Joaquim? "If I am rich," he continued, "it means that I have succeeded, and that success means that I can provide for my family and my chidren, so that they can go to school, learn a profession or a trade, and then provide for themselves and their families. I give them hope. What is worse than living without hope? I start my business, and I employ people and we provide a service."

I make him sound stupid and simplistic, when anything but that is true. What he is saying is that the measure of the human being in not in their wealth, but in their humanity. Wealth is a separate issue, but it gets taken for a root cause.

You see, capitalism can thrive alongside aspects of Marxist socialism, but strident socialism that rails against those who have more and "think they are better" is a cancer in the heart of society. It kills hope. And they are for Barack Obama. I suspect some people are getting it wrong. He's not about to make everyone the same, realize the Marxist utopia, and these same people say, "Look at the hypocrisy! It's Palin who is 'spreading the wealth'! It's the GOP that is guilty of socialist practices."

Hey, whatever works in the heat of the moment. Don't worry about intellectual consistency. They sound like Madame Lafarge. I'd rather be on the guillotine.

"What did I say to you?" she challenged.

"You slammed me, and you hurt me."

"What did I say to you that was personal?" Why did you say it if it were not? You knew when you started out, "You may not want to speak to me again after I say what I am going to say," and you were right. I don't.

You might have simply told me that my attitude appears shallow. You might have told me in private. We might have discussed it and learned from one another. An attack rarely leads to anything useful. For those of you who were not interested, or, worse, took it as an affront, I am sorry. I thought you would merely not pay attention if you were not interested, while those who were would. I will bear this lesson in mind. I am sure I had my part of wrong.

I am going to carve my pumpkins and let the peace of solitude work its wonders. It can be dangerous to the soul to interact with other people, especially people you do not really know. Lesson learned.
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