In 1998, I closed on a brand-new house in Hollywood, FL (not the one pictured above). At the time, I was a divorced, single mom of two teenagers, so qualifying for a mortgage was no easy feat. I was proud that I did it on my own without the help of parents or a spouse, as had been the case with my previous homes.
Of course, home ownership responsibilities only begin with the signing of the papers. Although new, the house needed upgrades (in my opinion) and a certain amount of “fixing up” to make it as attractive, comfortable, and suited to my needs as I desired. After the closing, however, my bank balance didn’t match my vision, and my talents did not include the skillset necessary for most do-it-yourself home projects.
Fortunately Joe, who was then my boyfriend, knew how to do these things, and more importantly, was willing. On weekends he’d tackle some of the things: changing out the electrical outlet covers for more attractive ones, installing ceiling fans, replacing the ugly louver doors with mirrored ones in the bedrooms, laying a vinyl tile floor in the garage to create a laundry room, and a host of other chores on the ever-growing list.
One day as I was preparing lunch for us, I heard a few letters of the Brooklyn alphabet echoing loudly from my bedroom where Joe was changing out the outlets. Fearing that he had hurt himself or gotten shocked, I ran upstairs to check.
I found him throwing the tools that he’d been using into my makeshift toolbox. Seeing wires hanging and the outlet cover not replaced, I asked what was wrong.
He picked up the cardboard box, led me downstairs and outside to the garbage, and ceremoniously threw my tools and the box in the can.
“Get in the car,” he ordered, before I had a chance to close my mouth.
“Where are we going?”
“To get you real tools. Ones that don’t bend or break when you use them.”
It was true, I had a “Barbie-style” set of tools, the kind that come with pink handles.
He drove to Home Depot, where he handpicked a set of basic tools of good quality that were necessary for general home repairs. When we got to the toolbox aisle, the shelves were stocked with a wide variety of large boxes but the only small one was a plastic Home Depot-brand container in bright orange with the store logo plastered across the sides.
Joe reached for that one since it was the only one that wasn’t way too big for my needs. “Oh, no,” I said, looking around for an employee to help us. “That won’t do.”
Just then, by some miracle, I spotted a staff member. “Excuse me, can you help us?” I cried out before he disappeared at the end of our aisle. A very congenial-looking man nodded his head and asked what I needed.
I pointed to the orange monstrosity on the shelf. “Are there any other toolboxes this size?”
“No,” he said. “We don’t get much call for those small ones.”
I surveyed the larger ones, but they were way too big and ridiculously expensive, as far as I was concerned. I brightened momentarily with a possible solution.
“Well, does it come in any other color? And without the logo?”
The man did not try to contain his amusement as he looked at Joe and then back to me. “No, ma’am.”
“Thanks for your help,” I said and turned to Joe. “We’ll have to go to Lowes, then.”
The man shrugged and went off, probably to laugh with his co-workers about the lady in Aisle 12 who wanted to know if the toolboxes came in other colors.
Joe showed more compassion and assured me he’d find something. He probably just wanted to get back to my house, have lunch, and finish the job. But he did bring me a toolbox the next time he visited. Just the right size and in an inoffensive color.
He also was patient about explaining the importance of having the right tool for the job. I got it. I learned from my mother, a seamstress, that using the wrong or dull scissors for cutting fabric could ruin the project with a pull or tear. It didn’t matter if you were cutting fabric or a tomato, hanging a lamp or picture frame, or painting a wall or a canvas—the right tool made any job easier and more efficient.
I haven’t owned a home in many years. Once we married, Joe and I learned to appreciate the freedom of home rental and downsizing. The ultimate was being on the road for three years with just the things we truly needed to live and do our jobs.
Although Asheville is my address now, I’ve widened my perspective to call the Earth my home. And our planet is in need of major renovations on so many levels, I wonder if there is a toolbox big enough to hold all that is needed for its repair.
I imagine many of you feel similar dismay—overwhelmed by the immensity of what’s needed and discouraged by the lack of unity with regard to one another or how things should be done. From climate change, to social injustice, to gender equality, to healthcare, to pandemic solutions, how can we even begin to heal in the midst of such discord?
“The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked. ‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely.” —Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
What is the beginning? Maybe instead we should ask: Who is the beginning? And the answer, of course, is each of us. All the tools in the world, literal and figurative, are useless without a person to implement them.
It’s become “normal” for us to look to the outside world for answers. But maybe it’s time to stop asking each other, our government, or anyone else what to do and how to do it.
Maybe the truth of everything we need to know is within us. We’ve been trained not to rely on our intuition or inner sense of knowing. But just for a moment, imagine being a revolutionary. Think for yourself! Get quiet and look inward for the answers you seek.
And how do we uncover what’s within? Going back to children’s literature again offers a clue.
“Doing nothing sometimes leads to the best something.” —Winnie the Pooh
If you don’t have some sort of daily practice of introspection such as meditation, journaling, or quiet time set aside to be alone, the act of turning to yourself for the answers may seem strange or perhaps even an unreliable source!
But who knows you better than you? Many of us need to get to know ourselves better to be more confident in trusting ourselves to know what we need to know. The more time we spend developing a relationship with ourselves (our souls), the deeper the connection becomes and the more comfortable we become with the answers we receive. We also become more confident about our own authority to make the best decisions.
Think about it. Instead of opening a digital device upon waking and being bombarded with the latest fear-based news, what if instead you spend the first minutes of your morning devoted entirely to centering yourself? In essence, what if you were “prepared” and standing on firm ground before confronting the typical chaos we hear and view every day?
Conversely, as enticing as it sometimes feels to shut out the world and stay in our “safe” places, the world needs us to act. We can no longer expect that things will be fixed without each of us contributing in some way. Maybe your contribution is simply to know that all is well and shine your light. Maybe it’s to join or contribute to an organization devoted to a cause you support. Maybe it’s starting the organization. What we do is not important. That we do is what matters.
So self-care and learning about how to understand, care for, and respect ourselves becomes more than just a “good thing” to do. It’s a necessary thing to do. And it takes time, but it’s never too late to begin. Being and doing our best now is what’s needed to heal the planet.
And yes, there are real tools we can use to excavate our truths! In addition to meditation and quiet time with ourselves, there are many techniques and tools at the disposal of those who want to walk the path of self-discovery. More about that next week in Part 2 :)
Image: Seen Better Days ©Gemignani. Purchase prints here.
Text ©Shelley Lieber
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