Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Losing and Gaining

Elizabeth Bishop advised readers of her poetry that “The art of losing isn't hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster” (“One Art"). She’s right!

To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch lost even though his defense of Tom Robinson was logical, impassioned, and persuasive, but he vowed to appeal. Jem Finch lost his innocence about his neighbors when his father’s case failed to free Robinson, but he endured. Scout lost her naïveté when she walks in the shoes of Mr. Arthur Boo Radley, seeing her neighborhood through the eyes of another, a recluse so different from herself, and enriching her understanding of all others. Miss Maudie also lost when a fire claimed her home, but she vows to rebuild, grateful that she has the opportunity to reinvent her home in a style more suitable to her age.

Like these fictional characters from To Kill A Mockingbird and Elizabeth Bishop’s poetic speaker, we all will endure loss. Even when we are right, as Atticus was about Tom Robinson, we may fail to win the day, and even when we want to believe, as Jem and Scout Finch did, we may discover that we must find a new faith, one that relies less upon the reality we wish for and more upon the reality that is.

And sometimes, we may not get what we want, but fate will conspire to bring us what we need—as the Rolling Stones sang so well and wisely.  I know this to be true for I have often failed to get what I want, but just as often, I’ve received what I seem to need, gaining something unseen, unimagined as a result of losing.

Today I lose a home, the fourth one and the one I enjoyed the most. The first one was the smallest, a humble little place on a forgotten street on the side of town that once bustled until marketers and developers who owned land far from that home pushed the town, further and further away, year by year. When we sold, the buyer was a landlord, one of many to transform our old neighborhood into the unforgiving decline of rental property.

Our next home taught me the truth in the old axiom, buy in haste; repent at leisure.We fell for tree-lined streets and S-curves leading through our new neighborhood, but the division was built upon landfill where once a streambed swelled and dried with the seasons. Our home’s foundation did the same. We replaced a shower pan three times, patched the mortar annually, and watched the driveway crack into uneven portions. Still we landscaped and planted, laboring to make beautiful the place that needed so much support. Arches spilling over with Fourth of July roses persuaded a buyer to take the lemon that had squeezed us for nearly twenty years.

Our next place was a rental because like the first small house, the old home in need of constant repair sold quickly. We had no place to go, and soon, we had no will to move again. Being able to pick up the phone and call for repair was delightful. It spoiled us, and we vowed never to buy a big place again. We also planned to avoid big, sprawling yards. And in this we succeeded, unaware that even tiny spaces cry out for adornment, walkways, borders and beauty. We threw ourselves into the tasks; our daughter painted every wall, earning money for her big move halfway across the country to a graduate school far, far away.

I found renewed delight in serendipitous finds: just the perfect color lamp base, a print that suited one wall as if it had been designed and conceived for it, furniture that comforted us as we rested. But the home was large and the upkeep unrelenting. We lived there, our fourth home, for six and one-half years, more than a year after we agreed to downsize. This one too, we believed, would sell quickly. Our limited experience persuaded us to believe in quick sales, and this home was our favorite, our showpiece, the largest. Surely buyers would hasten to our doors, offers in hand.

But it was not a favorite in the eyes of others. The countertops were manmade, not natural granite. The door handles were the wrong color. The paint on the walls too dark or too light or too bright or not green enough. The window treatments too plain, the yard too small, and the price never quite right so we waited, and in waiting, we acquired perspective as we, like Miss Maudie, reinvented the place we call home in a style more suitable to our age and taste.  We moved to a condo where our responsibilities are indoors, not out.

In waiting, I lost all affection for the home I once loved. It no longer looms large in my nostalgic moments. I think of the place as an albatross rather than a peacock arrayed. All those rooms, paint colors, Knockout Roses, and even the Japanese Maple no longer belong to me; they are scenery for a staged event: the sale of a home.

And this has carried over to my affection for the condo. I enjoy the views, the floor plan, and my neighbors, but I could let go of this place tomorrow if circumstances required that I do so. A home is just a blank canvas, a surface upon which to design, a space into which I fit. There have been and may be many more, and that’s just fine, certainly no disaster.