Archive for May, 2007

Decency Happens

May 24, 2007

Decency Happens

It’s common knowledge that I detest the depersonalized, transactional nature of buying and selling real estate.  Having had a house on the market for nearly a year, I’m so incredibly sick of realtors who have no regard for the people living in the home.  I’m sick of the whole “you can’t be around when they look at the place” issue.  I detest the fact that the real estate industry wants buyers to pretend that nobody is living in the house that they’re looking at.  It’s ridiculous, and I would question some of the psychological factors that are commonly cited in defense of these dehumanized practices.

But every now and then, decency happens.

Tuesday night my family was finishing up dinner (bacon, eggs & pancakes – woohoo!) when there was a knock on the door.  There was a nice young couple on the porch, so I went out and sat down to talk with them.  He wasn’t sure how to begin the conversation.  I had a hunch that it had something to do with the house, and it turns out that my intuition was accurate once again.

Our agent had e-mailed us the previous day to let us know that the people who had looked at the house over the weekend were apparently very excited about the place.  Of course, this means nothing, really.  Excitement happens and then fades in the difficult number-crunching and budget-tweaking that everyone goes through before committing themselves to massive debt.  But it’s encouraging all the same that people like the house.

This was the couple who had come by Tuesday night.  Basically, they just wanted to give us a word of encouragement, since they knew the house had been on the market a while.  They like the place a lot, and are doing a lot of thinking and praying to determine if this is the right move for them.  It would be their first home, and there’s that added excitement.  They already rent in the neighborhood, and so are familiar with urban living and all the excitement it offers.  Homogenous it ain’t, and not everyone can handle that.

We chatted for a few minutes before I invited them in to meet the family.  We did the introductions and chatted together for a few minutes.  It was just very, very nice.  Two people who could easily have hid behind a realtor, but who felt compelled (led, would be more accurate) to come by and meet face to face and talk honestly about things.  It wasn’t an excuse to quiz us about our price.  I could tell that they were telling the truth when they said that they had felt convicted that they should take this step, even though they weren’t sure they were going to buy the place. 

We all agreed that we were praying that God did the right thing.  That the right buyer at the right time and the right price would be brought to our house and everything would be as great as it was when I first found the house three years ago.  It may not be this couple who should have the house.  That’s a totally irrelevant issue, in my book.  The important thing is that a connection was made in an otherwise connection-less industry, and we are all the richer for it. 

I pray that they find the perfect house to be their first house.  If that house is ours, so much the better.  If not, I still pray that they will make a good decision that will make them happy.  That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? 

Where’s Your Fairy Tale?

May 22, 2007

In the May 21 edition of Time magazine, James Poniewozik had a light-hearted article examining the change of pace in the Fairy Tale genre in recent times, through films such as Shrek and books such as David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs.  Throughout much of the article, Poniewozik essentially argues that the old-style fairy tales – a la early Disney, the Brothers Grimm, and other classical fairy tales – are just too unrealistic.  Unrealistic, and just plain unappealing in our feminist, post-modern, street-wise culture.  Shrek and other parodies of old-style fairy tales are now de rigueur, creating a new establishment for some future writer to lampoon in time. 

Poniewozik is clearly un-enamored with the classic fairy-tale structures of damels in distress being saved by brave princes and such.  These outdated fairy tales are “hokey”, “stultifying”, “boring” to adults (not necessarily to kids),equated with “strained peas” in terms of their appeal to youth.  He is particularly unhappy with Disney’s “sanitized” fairy-tale versions that stripped the originals of some of their sharper edges to make more appealing family fare.  But his criticisms seem to range wider than this narrow – though lucrative – target.  Ultimately, he writes as one who has rejects the “message” of “old-school” fairy tales.  That message apparently is that “life doesn’t play out as simply as it does in fairy tales”, and that “wonder is for suckers”. 

Of course, the obvious rebuttal is that fairy tales are not historical narrative.  The power of the classic fairy tales lay precisely in their straddling of the precarious and often blurry line between what is and what ought to be.  The lessons were not necessarily realistic, but practical.  You might not get eaten by a wolf disguised as your grandmother, but you should be careful about what situations you allow yourself to get into. 

He also clearly identifies a curious – and I would argue dangerous – fact.  The ‘new’ fairy tales are recasting cultural values that have been somewhat universal in the West for literally thousands of years.  Understandings of the differences between men and women are being traded in for the insistence that men and women are completely identical in every respect except for what sexual organs they happen to have been born with.  And that sticky wicket can be surgically altered as well.  Men and women are seen as essentially identical slabs of meat that can be pressed into unisex uniformity. 

Except that it’s not uniformity.  Women are pressed to be capable of doing everything a man and a woman has traditionally done, while men are continually feminized and weakened to the point that one wonders what a woman of any age would want with one of them.  If you don’t believe this is the case, name a strong, capable, respected male figure on any major network sitcom.  Now how many strong, capable women are on these same sitcoms – women who are constantly cleaning up after their hapless men and taking them to task for being such dimwits? 

Fairy tales are ultimately an expression of actions and attitudes in the here and now that reflect the reality we wish existed.  Strong, brave men should have been willing to face danger for the love of a woman, though they often didn’t.  Princes should have been charming, though often they were not.  Nevertheless, fairy tales didn’t simply scrap a view of how the world should be because of shortcomings in the reality.  Disney may have made some of these boring, but that doesn’t mean that the values and messages behind Disney’s films – or the original fairy tales – were for “suckers”.

We all want a better world.  Unfortunately, in an age that has uniformly denounced and abandoned any outside assistance in overcoming our basic human inadequacies, failures, and inconsistencies, what we’re left with is simply trying to describe our reality more realistically, setting our sights lower.  We’re encouraged to try and make ourselves better, but over and over again we’ve discovered both personally and vicariously that we can’t.  Genetics holds such a powerful sway over the public imagination because science has for the first time presented some sort of physical answer to the problem that has plagued man since Eden.  We aren’t who we were meant to be, and we know it.  Science hopes to change this by altering our genetic code to make us into who we think we ought to be. 

If you’re optimistic about the odds of this turning out to be a) correct and, b) successful, you’re more a believer in fairy tales than you might be inclined to give yourself credit for. 

Someone’s Knockin’ at the Door…

May 2, 2007

For the past couple of weeks, one of my friends on our neighborhood listserv has been passionately appealing via the listserv for assistance.  A single mother friend of hers finally left an abusive relationship.  With no place to go and no financial safety net, this friend wound up in a shelter home with about 60 other women.  She’s scrambling to complete paperwork for an apartment, a resume for a new job, while trying to re-enroll her three kids in school for the coming year and hopefully secure some sort of usable transportation.

Towards that end, she’s kept people apprised of the situation.  She’s provided updates on what is needed – specific clothing sizes for the woman and her children, assistance with specific vehicular repairs, money towards an apartment deposit, etc.  She’s committed to helping this friend, and is sending out a lot of messages and updates so that people are kept in the loop.  She’s sent out a lot of messages in the last two weeks.

Today, people began complaining about it.

One newer resident of the neighborhood wanted to know why this one person was generating so many messages on one person’s behalf.  Why should the listserve be inundated with so many requests for assistance for one person, when “there are so many people out there in need”?  It wasn’t long before there was a peppering of messages echoing the same sentiment.  Enough was enough, after all.  If people were unable (or unwilling?) to assist, why should they be subjected to so many ongoing messages?

Why, indeed?

Everyone understands intellectually that there are lots of people out there who are worse off.  People hungry.  Homeless.  Living in cars and out of suitcases.  There are enough special interest local news segments to remind people of this.  Yet the local news stations are smart enough to know that if you feature someone in need every single day, you’re going to start getting complaints. 

People know that there is suffering out there, but we apparently have a dangerously low threshold for hearing about it regularly.  And God forbid anyone have the audacity to lobby on behalf of one particular person!  How dare they, when there are so many in need? 

But if nobody lobbies passionately for someone, how many people are going to receive assistance?  Isn’t the joke about the squeaky wheel getting the grease?  While we all know there is suffering out there, how often do we do anything tangible about it?

Because this one woman refused to give up, and kept on asking for help for her friend, I donated.  Others donated as well.  People who probably never would have helped out otherwise assisted.  People who weren’t doing anything for all the people in need ‘out there’ actually did something tangible for this one person.  It bothers me that despite this, instead of reveling in the excitement of making a huge difference in someone’s life, people are insulated and callous enough to not want to hear about it any more. 

A story is told about a man long ago who goes to his neighbor’s home late at night, after everyone is already asleep, and bangs on the door to borrow some bread for a late night guest arrival.  The man in bed with his family doesn’t want to get up.  He tells that man to knocking outside to go away.  But the man keeps knocking.  He keeps knocking even though it’s annoying and the man inside doesn’t want to get up.

Eventually, despite the annoyance and irritation, the man gets out of bed and gives his neighbor the bread he needs. 

The man who loans the bread can get back into bed pretty easily.  He’s lost nothing more than a little sleep and a loaf or two of bread.  He’s gained the appreciation and good will of his neighbor and his neighbor’s guest.  The neighbor has learned that he has a friend as well as a neighbor, and I don’t doubt their relationship was stronger for this test rather than weaker.  And the guest…well, the guest gets to eat.  Everyone wins.  Nobody is out much.  And what a difference it makes to that guest.

I suspect strongly that we need more people who bang on our doors on behalf of someone else, and who won’t go away just because it’s annoying and it’s late and we’d prefer not to be bothered.  We need to be bothered.