Thursday, February 26, 2009


I woke up this morning with a glorious feeling. It's Thursday -- a day I typically have no classes and only a lunch meeting. And my boss is in Kansas City, which means no lunch meeting either! The day stretched out in front of me, empty, ready to be filled with productive projects.

And for the morning, I was in good shape. I wrote some recommendation letters, created a couple of online advertisements for events, wrote long-delayed e-mails. One of those e-mails I'd put off for twenty-four hours after getting some bad news. A few days ago I'd contacted the executive committee of my regional scholarly organization in order to discuss nominations for the elected office that will need to be filled next weekend at our annual meeting. But the president-elect replied to say he'd been given a time-consuming administrative post at his university, and would have to resign immediately.

That means that instead of searching for one good person to nominate as usual, I needed two. And I needed them right away, and from only three colleagues instead of four. I stewed about it for a day, then wrote the e-mail describing the urgency of the situation and begging for help.

Then the chair of another department on campus e-mailed to say that a faculty member we'd been counting on might not be able to teach with us in the fall. And suddenly my free day began to crumble. Around the edges of my equanimity prowled the sense of abandonment. I couldn't begin to imagine a Plan B if it turned out the faculty member couldn't teach for us, or if my executive committee failed to come up with any nominations, or if no one agreed to serve. I wondered whether the responsibility for plugging these holes really rested with me, or if the chips were going to have to fall where they may after I'd done my level best to find solutions.

Then Noel called. He'd heard a load cracking noise that he thought was a transformer blowing outside the house. But it was followed by the sound of water gushing. The tank of the toilet in the kids' bathroom had spontaneously split apart, and its contents were spilling on the bathroom floor. He managed to get it stopped except for a drip, and called the plumber and then me.

Now such a confluence of bad news might have sidelined me on another day. But I think the good feeling I started with insulated me to some degree. I simply did not want to acknowledge the intractable problems I was now saddled with. I tried for detachment. I didn't succeed, entirely, but I felt as if what was called for wasn't frustration or anger; some sort of resolve that the responsibility for these dilemmas didn't rest ultimately with me -- that's what I desired, and what a part of me felt I deserved.

When the plumber came later, he lifted my mood with an offhand observation. Oftentimes when these tanks crack all of a sudden, he said, there's nobody home. And when folks do get home, they find themselves ankle-deep in the water that kept coming and coming.

So problem #3 wasn't as bad as it could have been. We're getting a new toilet tomorrow to match the nice low-flow model we have in the master bathroom (after the seal around the old one in there deteriorated last year). And the painter just called to say he could start on our house tomorrow -- the first step in what I hope will be a veritable cascade of home improvements in the months to come.

Maybe problems #1 and #2 will similarly turn out to be blessings in disguise, or at least have silver linings. If not, then I feel confident I can distance myself from their most vexing anxieties, at least on the best of days.


doafy said...

Good for you not having a meltdown! I think the toilet cracking would have sent me into an anxiety spiral, as I frequently have nightmares about things in the house breaking like that for no reason.

Good luck with #1 and #2

Don said...

Two things come to mind as I read this.
1. We are not in control and
2. All things happen for a reason.
and our response indicates our faith in someone other than ourselves.