big things start little

big things start little

E

very two weeks we’re doing something to the house.

It’s like everything else, I suppose. One thing breaks and you tell yourself, I’m totally going to get that fixed. You don’t, though. You simply become accustomed to its brokenness. And before long that one broken fixture or non-functioning appliance becomes obscured from view, buried beneath everything broken that comes after.

I read not too long ago that the brain is a discounting mechanism. I’d never heard the expression before, but basically it means that when something surpassingly wonderful happens in your life, it isn’t long before its shiny, not-to-be-believed-ness dulls somewhat. Pleasantly enough, the same goes for soul-crushingly awful events; over time, your brain smooths out the edges around the memory of them until you can turn them over in your mind without injury.

It’s a survival mechanism, one character in Where’d You Go, Bernadette explains to another. The brain’s work of equalizing our highs and lows keeps us ready to recognize new threats as they rise up out of what has become the familiar terrain of our experience.

But this means our work then becomes deliberately looking at our lives with fresh eyes. Scrutinizing the chips and cracks and dings in our well-lived spaces—and in our relationships, for that matter—to see where repairs and replacements are called for. It requires a mustering of energy and resources, this inventory-taking; upon completion, it may actually threaten to become a shocking revelation in its own right, one more thing the brain can discount the significance of enabling it to be obscured from view in relatively short order.

As far as home improvement goes, we’ve only just gotten started. An exterior door has been replaced and a panel of glass in the storm door just beyond it. A ceiling fan that hasn’t worked in a year was switched out with one that does. And as I type, there’s a solitary lavender plant sitting in the front yard waiting for someone to dig a hole into which it can be planted.

What’s left to do (and it’s not an inconsequential list, friends) seems easier somehow than sorting through all of those discounted items and looking closely at what we’ve stopped seeing so that we might start seeing them all over again.