169. A Tale of Two Worlds
What children make of the world partly depends on the day-to-day stories they hear. It’s in these stories that attitudes and values are planted. Here’s one our sons heard on the day it happened, once upon a time…
For 32 years I have built fountains, ponds and water gardens as a trade alongside Talking Hands Talking Feet.
Once upon a summer, I was building a ‘water-wall’ for these clients who would fly in and out of Santa Fe in their own jet. The house I was working on was one of three estates around the country. As always, I was thankful for the job, and I don’t look too critically at the source of the money. The reason I do the work is to support our family endeavors.
I was half way through the project when there was a change made to the type of stone being used, announced to me by the owner’s personal rep’. It meant I had to rip out what had been built and start over with a different stone. No problem. This is called a change order, and we, the contractors get compensated for it.
In this case however, there was an argument over who should cover the cost, me or the client? This caught me off guard. When they finally owned up to their responsibility, remembering they had chosen the original stone, they agreed to pay the change order. Then, unbelievably, began negotiations of how much was fair. I’ve become less naïve over the years about how skilled some super rich folks are in the art of ‘nickel and diming’.
I’ve never walked away from a job, no matter how difficult the circumstance. Honoring the contract, doing better quality work than expected, supporting my family and staying clean have always been top priorities for me. But every once in a while, I brush up against a mindset and attitude which I cannot abide. In this case it was entitlement and condescension coupled with the feeling of unsafety when you are with ‘powerful’ people who have little self-reflective capability.
As I drove off that day to another job, I felt disgusted and trashed by these folks who honestly believe their prosperity and power are rewards for their moral superiority. The only peace was in knowing they live in an entirely different world than the one I choose live in, the one that lives in me.
I went from their multi-million-dollar estate to my afternoon appointment. It was a service call for a sweet elfin-like elderly lady who lived in a quite humble part of town. I was coming to replace a broken pump for her tiny water garden outside her ‘writing window’. She was quite poor, but she loved her water garden and needed to get it fixed. It was obvious to me she had had a tough life. Still, she had maintained her dignity and humanity with a sharp wit, warmth and an enjoyable sense of humor.
When I finished, I didn’t have the heart to charge her, but she wouldn’t hear of it. When I insisted, she insisted back stronger. “You don’t stand a chance of winning an argument with me young man”, she said, “The least you can do is afford me the honor of paying you fairly for your work,” she said.
How could I argue with that?
She slipped three one-hundred-dollar bills into my jacket pocket, saying “Thank you for your timing and kindness. Come by and chat again sometime.”
I felt so relieved to be reminded there are people like her in the world. Her act of generosity was a million times more potent than all the petty greed and arrogance in the world. It is her world I choose to live for, live in, carry.
How do you live in two worlds, one might ask? Well, here’s another story.
I’ve lived with the poorest of people by so-called ‘first world’ standards, mostly in Latin America. And yet, in ninety percent of those places, they were the happiest, most secure people I’ve ever been around. They lived within a community support structure that nothing could break. Life was difficult for sure, but not complicated. There were weavers, teachers, farmers, builders, fishermen…and then, there were all the mothers… It’s the mothers who hold the whole thing together.
In every case, the whole village would come together at least once a week to sing, to tell stories, to joke around, to dance or just to be together… That was ‘church’ for them.
Not once did I hear complaint about circumstance. There were no signs of depression, isolation, homelessness, drug use, domestic abuse…anywhere. In the village in Peru, when they learned I had no ‘village’, no community to go home to, they were genuinely worried for me. They conspired to keep me there, which I found to be incredibly moving.
I couldn’t stay, but I realized I could bring their village, their world, home…inside me.