Today I was back in Lowes trying to get things for the kitchen sink in our small basement apartment we are supposed to be moving into on Tuesday. We are missing a 3 1/2 inch sink drain. It is in one of our warehouses but we cannot find it. I spent several hours trying to replace it today. Apparently the only 3 1/2 in inch sink drain in Northwest Montana is for cast iron, not stainless steel sinks. After months of waiting on other people, now we have one day left so we don’t make other people wait on us. It would seem we could be in control of this. It is our house.
Before the fire we had the illusion of control over our home. It was our island of things that did not hit us like the tide. I don’t think we ever believed we had control over our work as university faculty although there were times that we thought if we worked hard enough we could gain control over an out of control grant project or a university course we taught. In retrospect, a research grant project that is not working is a research grant project that is not working. A course that is not working is a course that is not working. Sometimes things are just not under our control.
One year I taught two section of personality theory in the psychology department. It was a course I loved to teach. The course syllabus and the book and the reading were the same. The assignments to the students were the same. The class sizes were different but not by a lot. One section had 11 people and the other 17. One was at 8 am and the other at 10 am. Mid-day classes are usually the most popular so the early or late classes can be inhabited by people who were lower in the registration queue and thus ended up with the less desirable time. Being lower in the queue does not mean a whole lot about the student, only the bureaucracy of course registration.
My 8 am class was the only class where every student completed an end of course evaluation and every student gave me the highest marks on every evaluation criteria. The 10 am class gave me my usual “better than average but not stellar” ratings. I tried all semester to try to figure out what was going on in my 8 am class and how I could bring some of the 8 am class magic to the 10 am class. Never happened. Sometimes the combination of students and faculty and time and topic produce different outcomes. Some classes are just not great ones. Students and professors alike know when it is happening but why or how to do it again is somewhat mysterious.
Owning a home is not mysterious most of the time. The combination of people, their activities and developmental stages can feel as mysterious as one of those great or not so great classes but being able to find your house is usually not a mystery. Once you own your house you usually know where it is and that it has windows and door and creaky stairs or an out of plumb door. You know where to push the window frame to make the window come open. You know what has to be done and what you are putting off that needs to be done. You know your house.
We now know that knowing our house is not under our control. It has taken us a while to figure this out. Even after the fire we thought we knew about our house and could control getting a replacement one. It is almost 20 months since the hungry wildfire ate our home leaving behind nothing but ash and things are still not under our control.
It seemed simple enough. Take the insurance money and clean up the mess the fire made and put a new house there. We tried that and were unsuccessful. Eventually, 11 months after the fire we started to be successful getting the house back but curiously we did not have control over the house and were building a house that we did not like all that much. Then illness and unemployment overtook us. We retired thinking that would put us back in control. We bought land in July and expected to start building in August. It was not to be. Because we, like the students in the 8 am classes, were at the end of the queue for the summer building schedule winter arrived before we really got started.
I suspect that our illusion of control has always been just that, illusory. I did not take a fire to teach it to us but the fire did bring the lesson home in a very powerful way. Even knowing that control is an illusion, I think I still have the illusion that if I can jut find the 3 1/2 inch drain that my house will come together and no other plumbing part or nail or wood or truck will be lost. No employee will arrive late or forgot it was his assigned day to work. Every delivery would be made on time. If we had that 3 1/2 inch drain the weather would stay good and lumber prices would go down.
Perhaps that is why we cannot find the 3 1/2 inch drain. It is good to know that even without the 3 1/2 inch drain we will be strong. We will understand that control is not the key to the time between our house that was and our house that will be. We will continue to wait out this disquieting and disorienting storm.