371. Change the Filter

I have a reminder note above my computer screen; it tells me when to change the air filter in my office building. Every three months is the target. I suppose I could switch it out more often if I were a worrier, but I’m not. The first year or two I didn’t know about the filter, which is located in a large vent in the attic above my desk. Getting to it requires a ladder and the removal of a ceiling tile and a 6 inch layer of fiberglass insulation. It’s not a hard task, but it is dirty and itchy.

Once you breech the attic, you have to pull yourself up next to the vent and pull out the old filter. It’s covered in gray dust like dryer lint. You slide the fresh new filter into the slot and voila!  Clean air for a while… unlike the first couple of years when I did not know about the filter. I learned on a steamy hot summer day that the filter must be changed or else it turns to a solid concrete barrier that shuts down air flow. When the compressor feels the pressure building up, it automatically shuts down. That’s when I called the HVAC guys.

Friendly Mike’s HVAC tech came out and immediately assessed the situation. My heat pump on the roof was fine, but he needed to use the $200/hour  boom truck to get there. The compressor was just locked up due to a pressure switch glitch. Before you knew it, Larry was climbing into my attic and swapping out filters. He showed me the year old filter that should have been changed out four times by then. It resembled a thin  concrete sheet cake ready for icing and candles. If I took it to the bakery for decorating, the attendant would ask, “And what would like to say on the cake, sir?”dirty air filter photo: dirty cabin filter filter2.jpg

“Eejit… that’s all.”

I think Larry got some satisfaction out of my disgusted reaction. “Wow, Larry, that’s a lot of dust, man.”

“Yup, four hundred dollars worth… yuk, yuk.”

I vowed then and there to never let this happen again in my living lifetime.

Larry offered to come back every three months to do this again. And why not? It was nearly free money for him. Foolishly I agreed to the deal. I say foolishly because the next time he came he put in a filter that he charged $12.00 for, plus his service call fee. I watched him do his routine and was amazed at how simple it was. ‘I can do that’, I thought, without Larry’s service call and overpriced filters. I stocked up on filters of the same type, getting 4 of them for $12.00. Then I couldn’t wait for the system to get dirty.

Mummy Mummies preserved bodiesNinety days later I opened the dark dusty attic tomb to look for the mummified air filter. In my one hand was a flashlight, an air filter in the other. I plucked the old dirty filter out of its slide and inserted the fresh clean one. Simple and satisfying. Yeah! Such a mundane action gave me a boost of manly competence. I felt like doing an Old Spice deodorant commercial then and there. “I am the Dust King! Bow to me, Ye Evil Dust Motes.” I replaced the insulation and ceiling tile without too much mess. Put away the flashlight and ladder. Went back to my routines… thinking about that filter. I had saved the lungs of countless hundreds. Though they would never know, dust free air was thanks enough.

Okay, I associate this and that and the other thing as you already know if you’ve read any of my previous posts. I can’t help it anymore than your kidneys can stop purifying your waste water or your liver purifying your blood. It’s in me, man.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a mental filter you could change periodically, one that would catch all the crap of life and keep it from recycling through your brain? How often do you make a mistake and feel stupid for a really long time afterwards as you perseverate on the error? I’m not talking about murder or Wall Street Ponzi schemes here. I mean something as simple as missing your trash pick up on Monday morning. You just forgot it Sunday night. Oh, and it was also recycling pick up day, so you missed that too. You feel stupid and even less than competent because you failed to do something so simple. For the next week you walk by the trash containers and feel stabs of guilt and embarrassment. “I’m a moron. A loser.” The overflowing receptacles seem to mock you as you try to ignore their smell, height and girth.

“This will never happen again,” you vow to the squirrel on your deck.

And we have other mental filters that get dirty, filters of guilt and shame, even pride and self interest. A wise young woman named Angela once told me that she had to choose between her divorced parents, who had been at war with each other for her entire life. Freedom and low maintenance were available at Mom’s home. At Dad’s there was contention and constricting rules that suffocated her. He would not listen to her reasonable and logical requests. “My house, my rules. My way or the highway. Do or die.” He was a binary thinker; black and white were the only colors he acknowledged. She wanted to escape Dad’s control, knowing full well that Mom would switch the script once young Angela moved in with her.Image result for black or white pictures

On the other hand she worried about her younger siblings left behind at Dad’s. He hadn’t been the tenderest or most patient father to them when she was present. What would happen to them in her absence? His new wife would be unavailable for months, she knew. Everyone else in her family seemed to be entitled to go on pursuing their lives and livelihoods, but Angela was constrained to stay behind and pick up their messes. She loved each of her family members but not their messes, the blaming, the tough love, the high drama, the double standards. She just wanted to filter it all out somehow without hurting any of them. Every so often she would get so full of pain and anger she felt she would explode and vaporize. She needed a filter change.

Drugs and alcohol were out. Sex too for now. Just too complicated and hard to control. She settled on cutting herself in a neat 3x 4 inch rectangle across her abdomen with a new razor blade. She then cut vertical lines across the short side and horizontal lines across the long side until she had her bloody drama filter. Finally it felt good to breathe again.

“This will never happen again,” she swore to the empty room.

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186. the lull latte

Image result for christmas landscapeIt’s a quiet Christmas morning. Frozen outside, a weak sun cannot melt the ice spots on our deck. Inside, the wood pellet stove fan’s whir is interrupted by the augur pushing more pellets into the hopper to burn. My bare ankles detect a chill at floor level just above the ridge of my new slippers. I adjust the stove’s setting a click higher as a sneeze sounds upstairs where my oldest daughter and wife sip tea and read books silently.  My youngest daughter sleeps behind me on a recliner after a tough night of coughing and sipping robitussin. And I, I want to memorialize gratitude on the blank document before me.

The grand baby Leah was off all  night as well. She had a wet sort of cough and a stuffy nose. At ten months of age she can’t have medications willy nilly, nor can she sleep with her binky in her mouth while snuffling through a stuffed nose. Something had to give last night, and that was her parents’ right to sleep. They held her upright and sat in a steamy bathroom on and off to ease her discomfort. As Grace cheerfully said this morning, “If anyone else prevented you from sleeping all night, you’d be upset and cranky. But when it’s your own baby, well, it doesn’t matter.” Simple truth: love sacrifices.

Several times over the past two days I have gazed at my granddaughter’s sparkling angelic face and smiled a joyous smile back at  her. She pulls her binky out of her four tooth grin and offers it to me with an outstretched little baby girl arm. Each time I think but don’t say, “Grace, thank you for not going right to work and delaying these moments for years or forever. What a great gift you have given us. As parents we did not have a choice. We  had to work up to, during, and after delivery. We lived on the edge, often upset and cranky with each other and with our station in life.  We could not be as resilient as  you. Thank you for this joy born of faith.”

“Thank you Stu for working without complaint or measuring to provide Grace and Leah this ideal time together. Thank you for who you are and who you choose to be in a world that clamors to divide your attention and loyalties. Thank you for loving God, my daughter, and my granddaughter so deeply.”

Grace, baby Leah and hubby Stu drove over to Stu’s good family this morning. Fortunately they live only three miles away so we don’t have custody cravings and clashes. They are good people, those Gallaghers. I want to thank them for putting family ahead of stuff, and for putting faith first in their family. Days like today are rich dividends paid on those investments. Not big material gains but subtle relational ones, for all the gifts exchanged mean nothing compared to the laughs, the smiles, the hugs and the love of family. “Thank you Dan and Joann for holding cracked family systems together and re-bonding the fractures. Thanks for  parenting again as grandparents. You are twice blessed.”

 

This year we really dialed it back on the gift giving, not because we had to. It was more a question of stewardship and priorities. We lack nothing. It’s an odd contradiction when you must really concentrate and take inventory to come up with a gift wish. After a few searching moments, I said, ” I could use a belt.” My wife bought me two. I’m full, Blogelves. Anything more and I will overflow in wasteful luxury. What I wanted was abundantly present before and around me– my faithful wife, my three fabulous daughters, my amazing son-in-law, and my precious granddaughter. All in harmonious peace.  Friends visited during the day, then we all went to church, opened presents and played a tough game of chess and later Scrabble. (I lost both… happily.) It’s all good.

So in the quiet of today comes the lull, the slow and easy break from the breakneck life we live. It’s the root of lullabye, a repeated lu-lu-lu sound that soothes children to sleep. I imagine Mary and Joseph lulling baby Jesus back to sleep in the brutal world they inhabited. Soothing sounds from a loving mother, better than robitussin and vodka, and before you know it the babe is rhythmically breathing, a little bird in its downy nest, a little lamb on its mother’s warm, fuzzy belly. The lull is a safe and satisfied place to be, a drainage ditch off the bayou of joy. You can bed down in the sweet long grass there like a fawn, safe and blessed. A pause in the struggle of survival. Today tastes like victory, like tiramisu and cheesecake with rich creamy coffee. It’s playing the X on a triple word space overlapping a double word line in a  seven letter word play fifty point bonus. Yeah, like that.

Yesterday at the coffee shop the coffee was free. I said to Andrea, “This must be what heaven is like.” She did not disagree. I told her I would initiate a pay it forward program all day long for coffee. She was unimpressed with my antilargesseness.  But it’s all good in the lull, the moment between inhale and exhale as oxygen hooks up on dates with blood cells in your lungs. Sure, there is more stress coming tomorrow. The world will erupt again in chaotic activity and conflicts of all sorts because this was too small or that was too large. Our first world problems will seep up to street level like sewer gases. But for the moment I’ll have the lull latte. Thank you.