Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shutting down the 'pity party' and recalling what matters

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial page

Last week, after years of lying dormant, a leak in my basement starting giving me trouble again.

When I first bought the house in 2001, I noticed that the carpet at the bottom of the stairs would get a bit damp during certain rainfalls and remain dry in others.

It was an odd condition, I thought, because a leak is a leak, no? But since it wasn't causing a huge amount of trouble I let it go. After all, the carpet was 'damp' and not wet. There wasn't even a stain afterwards.

Then, as quickly as the problem began, it disappeared. Figuring that the God of Leaky Basements had somehow smiled down upon me for some reason, I eventually forgot about it. The leaks stopped in 2002 and didn't start up again until seven years later -- a few weeks ago, in fact.

Now, I don't know what I did to make the God of Leaky Basements angry with me after its love shone down upon me for so many years, but whatever I did I did it pretty well, because the leak went from non-existent even during the worst storms to a veritable geyser if someone down the street even so much as spit on the sidewalk -- in another city.

Never mind the rain! If someone cried on a television show, I'd go down to the basement and find the carpet soaked from their salty tears.

OK, this was bad. I could no longer avoid the situation. The house had apparently shifted at some point -- like all houses do -- and the crack that had always been there happened to re-emerge bigger and better than ever.

Quite obviously a pre-existing condition, I was pretty certain that my insurance wouldn't cover the repair. Besides, the deductible would probably be about the same as the amount for the repairs, so why even bother asking, eh?

A leaky basement or a flood is one of a homeowner's worst nightmares -- especially in homes where the basements are finished and finding a leak or any other disastrous flaw could mean tearing it half apart to find the problem.

I was not in a good mood. Being a complete and utter Facebook addict, I altered my usual cheery and (hopefully) somewhat humorous online persona to one that was cranky, angry and worried about the state of my home.

Since I live alone, there was no one else around to whine to. The cats were getting their usual 22 hours of sleep per day, so they were obviously exhausted from looking out the window and licking themselves in places that made me completely envious of their dexterity.

So, I decided to take to Facebook and whine. Perspective is wonderful thing for bringing someone back to reality -- and to realize that sometimes your problems may be big to you, but that there are always others going through worse . . . much worse. As I was scrolling through some of the comments left by friends offering humour, sympathy and advice for my leaky basement, a university classmate from years ago left a comment of support.

This is the same classmate whose husband was killed in Afghanistan two days after Christmas last year, leaving her a widow in her 40s with three young daughters.

In fact, the very day I was whining about my leaky basement, she'd updated her Facebook status with the fact that she was out choosing her late husband's grave marker.

My leaky basement -- a completely fixable and a temporary problem if not for my procrastination -- certainly seemed tiny and unimportant right then.

I felt ashamed to even be complaining. How dare I, quite frankly. Although sometimes I suppose it's OK to vent about things, it's also very annoying.

I hate listening to others whine about their problems (unless they're really big problems out of their control) so I'm not sure why I thought others would be interested in hearing me complain about a wet basement when all I had to do was get someone in to fix it.

Instantly, I forced myself to undergo an attitude adjustment. A leaky basement could be fixed by writing out a cheque to a competent repair company -- which is exactly what happened a few days later.

The leak's been fixed and I now have a dry basement. The only thing left to remind me is a water-stained carpet. Again, I'll just call in someone to have it cleaned professionally. Problem solved.

My university classmate, however, can't just pass a magic wand over her husband's tragic death and fix everything.

She is adjusting, slowly but surely, and is finding joy in life where she can and moving on. I'm sure she'd take a leaky basement any day over what she's had to live through since last year.

My own unexpected large expense certainly can't compare to a life-altering moment.

So while I held my credit line in my arms the day of my basement repair, mascara running down her pitiful little cheeks in the middle of deep gut-wrenching sobs -- 'there, there, sweetie; you have a low interest rate... we'll all be OK' -- I learned to count my blessings and stop sweating the small stuff. It's just money.

I hate pity parties -- especially when the guest of honour is me. They're such a waste of time, not to mention selfish.

While venting is certainly healthy sometimes, it's much more productive just to give your head a shake, tell everyone attending the pity party that it's time to go home and take care of themselves, and snap back to the reality of what really matters.

And in the big picture of things, it certainly wasn't my leaky basement.

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