Before or After?
January 13, 2016 § 21 Comments
Progress on the house has slowed to a steady trickle. This is due in part to finances, but equally to myriad other demands on our time, as well as the inherent nature of house-building: The end-stage always demands deep reserves of patience. Any semi-competent fool can frame and put a roof on a modest house inside of a handful of weeks, and it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of accomplishment by the speed with which the outline of a structure can rise into a space where there was once only air. If all you did was frame and roof houses, you’d think yourself superhuman, a conjuror of shelter, a home-whisperer, a king among the commoners. But a frame and a roof do not a habitable home make, and thus my delusions of self-grandeur have died a quick and pitiless death. As they deserved to do.
We are closing in on three months of living in a single room with no running water and only a wood stove for both heat and cooking. As such, it sometimes feels to me as if we live inside that old Buddist saying Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Which inevitably raises the question: Are we before or after enlightenment? I suppose the fact that I cannot say is answer enough. Furthermore, I assure you that nothing about the way we’re currently living feels particularly enlightened. It is just living, by turns difficult, joyous, frustrating, gratifying, tiresome, energizing, and probably a few other things I can’t think of right now.
I’m not sure exactly what I’ll ultimately take from this summer and fall, not to mention the experience of living with my family in such humble circumstances. Perhaps it will simply become a footnote in our lives, an anecdote to recall at some later date while we finger feed each other lobster tails in the Jacuzzi. That would be fine. I have no designs or expectations.
But even now, in the midst of it all, I am aware of one thing: That my own resourcefulness has expanded, and for this I am grateful. It’s not just the increased depth of skills and experience (though that’s part of it, to be sure, and it doesn’t hurt a bit). Mostly, it’s the confirmation of something I’ve long suspected, but am nonetheless relieved to have corroborated: Much of what I might have assumed necessary to live contentedly was, in fact, superfluous. Two thousand-square feet did not make me any more (or, let’s be honest, any less) content than 500; a shower every day (or, let’s be honest, every other day) did not make me any more content than a sponge bath every week, though it might well have made me smell a little better. At the risk of sounding a bit trite, it’s actually a fairly powerful thing to be reminded of this.
There’s some sort of lesson here, I suppose, but I’m not really in the mood to figure it out. Or maybe I’ve divulged it already, and am just too thick to realize such. In any case, this house ain’t gonna finish itself. I’ve gotta get back to work.
Also, I wanted to draw your attention to our upcoming winter/spring session of Teen Earthskills Immersion Camp, run by our dear friend Luke Boushee. The fall session far exceeded our expectations, and there’s a whole lot more fun in store. Here are more details.