Structural Weakness

My house in Morton Grove, Illinois was built in 1954. It was a one-story ranch and I bought it from the estate of the original owners.

The yellow kitchen was walled off from the living and dining rooms. I planned to renovate with that most common of renovations—reduce the interior kitchen walls and insert a large kitchen island.

After the walls were taken down, I stood in the down-to-the-studs kitchen at the place where the island would be. I could see out the living room window to the evergreen trees. Looking to the left, I would be able to see out the dining room French doors, when the pink fiberglass protective panels were removed. I would be able to see the oakleaf hydrangeas and the peonies.  

When the kitchen linoleum was pried from the floor, asbestos tiles were revealed. This meant a delay and additional funds and a special contractor for asbestos abatement.

After the asbestos was removed, I noticed a crack in the living room ceiling, spreading from the juncture of the living room and the hallway to the bedrooms. The crack was small. I told myself it didn’t matter, it was just the house settling into the construction.

The next morning the crack had stretched further into the living room. I called the contractor.

The contractor came and inspected the crack. He called the architect.

The architect came and inspected the crack, the attic, and the basement. When he finished his inspections, he took a yellow legal pad from his briefcase and drew a quick sketch of the floor plan. The architect placed his pencil tip on the corner where the living room met the hallway.

“This is that corner,” he said, gesturing with his free hand. Keeping the pencil point on the spot, he raised the pencil to perpendicular, then pressed hard on the eraser end with his free hand, driving the pencil point into the paper, causing the page to bubble up around the point, pressing so hard I feared the point would break and cause eye injury.

“This is the load from your roof. It all hits right here.” He lifted the pencil and tossed it aside. “But there is nothing directly supporting it.”

The architect explained how the lack of support caused the ceiling and the walls and the floor to constantly flux under pressure. I felt that I was no longer in a house but a boat, but it wasn’t the waves that were moving, it was the wood in the hull of the boat that rolled.

The solution was to tear up a large portion of the floor in the living room and the dining room, and insert a steel beam to transfer the load to the foundation. It would mean more delay. And a lot more money. I asked about the consequences of not doing it.

The architect answered, “I can’t promise you that if you don’t do it your roof is going to collapse in the first heavy snow, but I can promise you that if you do it, it won’t.”

It was a moment of choice.

First I was sad. I can’t believe this is happening. Then I was angry. “Wasn’t the asbestos enough?

This house had a problem, a big problem, and it was up to me to decide what kind of homeowner I would be. Would I cover it up with spackle and hope for the best? Or would I repair the weakness in the structure?

I choose the steel beam.

I believe this is what is happening to us with Covid-19. The virus is exposing structural weaknesses in our governments, our healthcare systems, our social safety nets, and in ourselves.

We are being renovated and we are being given the opportunity to choose what kind of people we want to be. Our foundations are being tested and where there are structural issues, cracks are showing.

As I look at the structures of my life, where are the cracks, the clues that something needs strengthening?

It is time to look for cracks in:

  • Our physical, mental, and spiritual health
  • The work we believe we were put on the planet to do and the contribution we were meant to make
  • The love we share with others
  • How we play and refresh ourselves

This pandemic is taking us down to the studs and our faith is being tested. I can’t tell you what to have faith in, but I can tell you that faith is essential.

A friend sent me this last Sunday, from Richard Rohr:

  1. Life is hard.
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die.

These words comfort her.   Some are comforted by Psalms, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” Some are comforted by affirmations, “This too shall pass.”

What comforts you, what gives you hope? Gather it, hold it fast. This is going to be a long tunnel. We need you to be a light in the darkness. We need to be lights for one another.


Follow-up

Back when I was working in my talent management role, if an HR Business Partner asked me a question I would answer it and send the answer to all of the business partners. My perspective was that if one person had a question, probably others did as well.

The business partners told me that this was true and that they appreciated my approach, so I’m going to do the same here.

Last Sunday I got a question about my Letter of Intent Intention, “How is  it different from bequests?” I believe the difference is that the Letter describes why I wanted a particular person to have a particular thing.

For anyone interested, attached are my:


Chewing the Cud of Good

Colorful cotton face masks made by a quilter
© @gratitudequilts

Thankful for my dental hygiene school friend Lori, who has turned her quilting skills to making masks, and for the air that smells so good because parked vehicles are helping the planet.

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