I’ve lived in the same apartment community for 20 years. I’ve been asking to have my windows replaced for 15 of those 20 years. The pressure seals had long since broken, resulting in permanent condensation between the panes of glass and essentially rendering them non-windows (if we define “window” as “a portal through which to see”).
Finally, the day came. After 15 years of waiting, I was getting new windows. The property manager assured me that replacing the six windows was a one-day job and that all work areas would be carefully enclosed in plastic throughout the job. Sounded reasonable. I spent hours the night before moving furniture and computer set-ups away from the windows to prepare for the workers coming the next morning. I went to bed tired, but dreaming of the new windows I would have at long last.
The next day, I evacuated the apartment and returned 8 hours later, ready to enjoy my new windows. The place was a complete disaster. The two workers were not even close to having one set of windows in one room completed. I entered the apartment to find that, in fact, nothing was covered in plastic. Every room of the house was strewn with brick dust, fiberglass, and wall fragments. As the property manager entered behind me, the present window shattered into my apartment, sending glass shards flying.
Even after I cajoled the property manager into insisting that the workers stay and finish the job, at the twelve-hour mark, no room was completed. No room was clean. My house was covered in debris and swarming with flies and other bugs that had entered through the unfinished openings when dusk arrived. Windows were quickly jimmied into place with boards and shims until the next day.
And I had to sleep here.
For the first time in over four years, my asthma kicked up and I was unable to sleep that night, lungs burning. The next day, I had to leave the apartment for lack of ability to breathe. By day three, it had developed into bronchitis, and I believe pneumonia. I was drowning in a sea of brown sludge. I had to cancel appointments.
The fourth night, during a spasm of violent coughing, I threw my lower back out. Today, I spent most of the day in bed at my mother’s house, hacking and in pain, while professional cleaning crews came in to try to remediate the condition of my apartment caused by the slovenly workers.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that my main mantra is this: You always have a choice. And I do not just tout this to others; I believe it. I do my best to live it. But I experienced a tangible “re-learning” in the last few days. It’s a simple thing, almost childish. But it was real and in my face.
The truth is, it’s easy to choose to be positive when things are mostly going well. And it’s easy to choose to be negative when things are mostly going rotten. It’s even understandable — some might say justified — to be negative when things go miserably wrong in our lives. But (and take a deep breath before reading on) … it is still a choice. Granted, it’s a more difficult choice that takes deeper character. But it is a choice nonetheless. To believe otherwise is to return to the notion that I am a victim and that life is “happening to me.” And while I can’t control everything that does happen, I can control my next reaction and my attitude.
I’d give myself a C+ for the last few days. I gave in. I started to feel like a victim at the whims of other people’s bad choices. And their choices were, in fact, quite irresponsible and bad. But that is where their responsibility ends and mine began.
So how is that I could have had someone else’s negligence result in personal disruption of my home and health, and still have chosen to be positive and happy?
I can start by telling you that I felt the moment that I gave in. On the inside. The other people involved became monsters in my mind, not real people; and I allowed myself to see them solely as embodiments of their error. They were incompetent. Nothing they did was right. They were just bad people. And soon nothing around me seemed right. I saw more bad people, more bad things. I started to remember past bad things. My view on the world had become as foggy and marred as the windows I’d just had replaced.
The positive reality is that I have a mother who welcomed me into her home when I was in need. Not everyone does.
The positive reality is that I live in a country where, for a minimal cost, I have access to medicines that ameliorated much of the discomfort of my asthma, cough, congestion and back pain.
The positive reality is that I slept in a comfortable bed, ate as often as I liked and showered daily during this time period.
The positive reality is that I have concerned friends who called or texted often to check up on me, and who offered to help in any way I might need.
The positive reality is that the situation is temporary, though inconvenient and even painful at times.
The positive reality is that, in the end, my new windows have been installed and I can see through them.
I even got a professional cleaning, including areas unaffected by the work, and I returned today to the smell of lemon and pine; tomorrow, my carpets will be professionally cleaned.
When I started to remember these things, I suddenly was aware of the beautiful fall day around me, of the breeze blowing and the rustle of the leaves.
“Sure,” you say, “it’s easy to have perspective and a better attitude once the problem is past!” And you’d be correct. It is easier. But I maintain that it is still all within the realm of choice: today, yesterday or when I first entered my war zone of an apartment. And every time you succeed, the next time becomes a little easier in the thick of things.
I’m still coughing as I write. My back is still out of whack. But my attitude is getting back in whack. I think when this is all over, I’ll go for a coffee with the property manager, off premises, where we can remember that we are just two guys who have real lives outside of window repairs.
And I have a suspicion that I’ll sleep a little better tonight.