“Where is it?” She wondered aloud. “Where is what?” He asked. “My wherewithal,” she said, “I can’t seem to find it. Instead all I’ve got, is wherewithnaught.”
Yesterday our garage door stopped working properly. Everytime we clicked the button to close it, it would swing down — slower than usual, and once it had closed, it would immediately– as if startled by contact with the ground– swing up and slowly open again. I called a Garage Door Repair company, “Pain-Free Garage Door Repairs.” A promising name. And they sent over — let’s call him, Dostoevsky– to assess the situation. Dostoevsky is possessed of a clearcut profile, a Russian accent and an air of disdain. “Your door, it’s too heavy,” he told me, “Not good. Must replace it.” And he sent us a proposal for a several thousand dollar replacement. At which point I began to think his company was poorly named. So I turned to our local neighborhood social media platform, that offers a panoramic view into the marvelously mixed bag of humanity that resides in one’s own neck of the woods, and that also offers tried and tested recommendations on everything from where to find the best gingerbread, to whom to call if your water heater goes bust. There I discovered an array of rave reviews for, let’s call him, Terrence of Paradise Garage Door Repair — and something about the spirit of the recommendations made me trust this man, sight unseen. And so I called him, and we set up an appointment for 8AM this morning. He pulled into our driveway right on schedule, and when he climbed out of his truck, I couldn’t help but sigh a little. He looked fresh out of college, still wet behind the ears. I’d been hoping for someone reliably weathered.
Terrence made his way into the garage and began fiddling with the motor, the switch, the sensors. I began to run through a list of possible backup options. And that’s when my husband stuck his head out the window and asked me to ask Terrence if he wanted some chai. So I did and he did. I went upstairs, leaving Terrence to potter about. My husband in the midst of making chai, says to me, “I think Terrence is going to fix it.” His optimism wasn’t founded on much — just a general sense of confidence in the man so many neighbors had vouched for [he hadn’t even read the reviews, he was going off of the little I’d told him.] I refrained (admirably) from saying anything dismissive. And when the chai, steaming and cardamom-and-saffron scented, was ready, I carried it down, and found Terrence had indeed fixed our problem, with no more than a Phillips screwdriver and the adjustment of a loose piece on the overhead track.
The garage door, like a well-behaved and docile house pet, now stayed down when it was supposed to stay down. Terrence began to explain why the problem had occurred, and what he had done to remedy it. He was so clear, so eloquent and engaging that I found myself growing unexpectedly interested in the inner workings of garage doors, and newly grateful for their wordless diligence, their heavy lifting. Terrence sipped his chai, and flashed an appreciative grin — “This is really good!” And it really was. My husband has a way with caffeinated beverages. Terrence then proceeded to educate me briefly on the mismatched springs that were holding up our very heavy garage door. “You might want to switch them out at some point, if the slowness of the opening and closing is ever an issue. Not urgent, not necessary, but a possible enhancement.” He could send us a proposal if we ever wanted to do that. Yes, that would be great, do send that over– we may consider that down the line, and then I ask — And for your troubles this morning? Oh –I didn’t do anything . But we’d like to offer you something! The chai is great, he says. Holding up his cup like he’s proposing a toast. “I don’t like to charge for doing nothing.” It wasn’t nothing. And there are plenty of people who will charge just for setting foot on your driveway. But he’s already back in his truck. “Call if you ever need anything.” And then he’s off and on his way. Leaving me with a little unidentified melody playing in my heart.
It has been a full week — another transfusion for my husband, with the usual flurry of attendant uncertainties. New details to be coordinated with his hematologist, the Ayurvedic specialist and a specialized health coach we have just engaged. Rainstorms barreling through the Bay Area — felling trees, flooding roads, closing highways. Dance classes every evening. A gas furnace that is being replaced with a heat pump, work trucks in and out of the driveway each day. Enormous camellias impossibly red and frilly bursting into bloom in the backyard. The maple trees are leafing. Wildflowers are preparing to take over the garden stairs. Interviews and workshops being planned for and run, alongside a series of circle-dialogs — the latest one focused on a lighthouse of a couple. Navigating a complex form of cancer with breathtaking grace and an astonishing willingness to investigate life for what truly matters. For how to make good on the moments, regardless of however many there are of them left. The days have been so full and so heightened, I didn’t realize I was teetering on a brink until that garage door refused to close. A mechanical failure that in an alternate universe would have been just that. In this universe it felt more personal somehow — yet another unnecessary and ill-timed reminder– that things fall apart.
Most days I can live with the inevitable truth of that, even smile at it peaceably. At other times it feels utterly untenable. A wretched arrangement– a contract that should have been shredded on sight, instead of signed and notarized by whoever was in charge of Reality when this whole parade began. At such times the tiniest crack can turn into an abyss, wide enough to swallow me whole. And the wonder of it is, in such times the slenderest thread of human goodness can turn into a cable, resilient enough to pull me out, and set my feet gently back on the plank. That’s what Rose Wilder called it. “Life is,” she wrote, “a thin narrowness of taken-for-granted, a plank over a canyon in a fog.”
Somedays I discover, even a plank, is wide enough to dance on.