A Day Placed in Perspective

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There is no question that I am extremely fortunate to have the life I have. I never lose sight of that. I will also observe that even when our challenges are small, they can add up to mental exhaustion.

Today was that kind of day. By mid-afternoon I had concluded that dinner must be something as compatible with my brain-dead state as pasta with a marinara sauce. It was a day of small challenges. However, all of us know that these are layered over ongoing stresses: a persistent pandemic, family “complexities,” the current and pending impacts of the changes in our climate, regional and global catastrophes, physical and mental health maintenance, finances, and whatever else might keep us awake at night. It’s in this way that an accumulation of small challenges can bring us to a state of exhaustion.

Parts 1 & 2: My cleaning people come every other Thursday. They are two blessings, in large part because my house sparkles when they’re done. However, there is another benefit not to be ignored: I remove all of the clutter in anticipation of their arrival. I want them to be able to clean every nook and cranny without bodily harm. Some weeks, I don’t finish before they arrive. So, this morning I got an early start. Now, really, my clutter is not that bad, but it is in every room. I cleared it at a somewhat manic pace. I was completely ready for a thorough house cleaning by 11:07 a.m. The cleaning team knocked on the door three minutes later.

However, an hour earlier my gardening assistant had arrived to do a jet-propelled water spray of every spider-mite-infested plant (eighty-one California native plants), over and under, and to remove leaves from under bushes in places that I had just discovered were missed, though I’d previously requested they be totally removed before dealing with the aforesaid spider-mite infestation. Those dead leaves seem to be a haven for these miniscule herbivores, even though they can’t suck on something that’s dead for nutrition. So, I demonstrated exactly how I wanted him to spray the plants—that having been misinterpreted two weeks earlier. This is a new business for him. I knew I’d be doing some coaching in the early months, encouraging a young entrepreneur to develop his knowledge and skills far beyond the mow-blow-and-go model for yards that consist of a grass lawn. He is a very good person.

Part 3: My son had mentioned a few days ago that the ice cubes from the refrigerator had an unpleasant smell. I changed the refrigerator’s water filter then but thought I should check out the bottom of the freezer beneath the two baskets when “I could find the time.” After the house cleaners left, I mixed a bucket of hot water and dish detergent and scoured the bejeezus out of that bottom. Not easy to accomplish if you’re not a natural-born contortionist. In the process, I discovered a previously unknown vent for either air intake or air expulsion. It was totally clogged. This could not have been good for the motor or coolant system. Scrubbing brush, elbow grease, and cleaning rags to the rescue.

Part 4: Yes, I know that sounds like a day of racing from one physical task to another, along with making progress on my day’s original to-do list. But before those toils began, I sent my estate-planning attorney a short note, saying that I had reviewed all the pages of my restated living trust, all the pages of the advanced healthcare directive, all the pages of the power of attorney, and all the pages of the last will and testament. I listed the number of pages for each document. I’m at an age when getting it right might matter at any time. Reviewing and adding sidebar comments with questions and clarifications took me quite a few days of part-time attention. I was feeling pretty pleased with that accomplishment. Instead, the attorney interpreted my list of what I’d read as a complaint. He responded rather defensively. I found his “professional” email message after the house cleaners and gardener had left and the freezer bottom was cleaned. After forty years of email Life Lessons, I make allowances for email messages such as the one from the attorney. Could be he was having a bad day. Could be he worries about keeping his clients perfectly happy. Could be he could not imagine that I was celebrating reviewing every word of 107 pages of legal documents.

What I know is that if someone is going to misinterpret an email message, it’s nearly guaranteed that they’re going to assume something negative. In situations such as this (just as with some face-to-face arguments), there’s an emotional content that’s not explicit. You have to read/listen for what’s not being said but is there if you recognize that the comments are not “reasonable.” One of my well-worn reminders is not to apply logic where logic doesn’t apply. If nothing else, you’ll probably piss off the other person.

Fortunately, the attorney realized he should call me. Although he started defensively, I cut him off quickly with a laugh, saying that I’d read his email response and that he had totally misinterpreted what I’d said (which was little more than a list of numbers and document titles). I told him how pleased I was that the documents were so thorough and specific. Okay, so all that didn’t take a lot of time, but it sure was more emotionally draining than I had remaining energy to take in stride.

So, that was today. The recipe for the marinara sauce includes a can of chopped tomatoes, a small can of tomato sauce, some fresh basil and oregano, and some sauteed onion and garlic. It prepared itself while I looked around my clean kitchen and sipped on a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

My calendar says I will hike tomorrow morning. Not happening.

Patricia

Patricia is the author of a wide range of essays that span narrative, persuasive, and informational approaches. She believes that most writing benefits from an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on knowledge acquired over decades of diverse learning endeavors.

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