When I think back to the first time I spoke with the man, I’m ashamed of myself. I probably felt superior. Maybe a little condescending. I pitied him — even if he didn’t know that.
There’s a dilapidated house not too far from where I live. The houses in the blocks around it vary. Some are nice and newer. Some are old and modest.
But this house was a pile of junk where I would never live.
It hadn’t been painted in years. The wood was slowly rotting. A couple of garage doors that open into the first floor — living space is on the second floor — were falling apart. I doubt those doors had been opened in years. (I doubt they could open anymore.) But this man had just moved his family into the house.
“Yeah, I’m going to fix the house up,” he told me. “It will take me awhile, but I’ll get it done.”
I smiled and continued my walk with my dog, Lucy. I was skeptical. And if I’m being honest, yeah, I was condescending and superior. I might have had my financial troubles in the last five or six years, but I’d never move my family into that piece of junk.
My skepticism seemed to be well-founded. Not much happened at the house. That was probably a year ago. I hardly ever see the people who live there, but I see them move around inside the house or coming down to the laundry room in the first floor.
The house was an eyesore. An older woman had lived there when I first moved to this neighborhood. She wasn’t friendly and I didn’t much like her. I liked her house even less. It was ugly. It was falling apart. It was the worst house anywhere nearby. I never quite said this to myself, but there was a part of me that seemed to feel, “I shouldn’t have to live near this sort of trash.”
Was I thinking of the house or the people? Could I really be that judgmental? Probably.
Slowly, something started happening. I don’t recall what happened first. It was that gradual. The rotting wood was painted. Some boards were replaced. Shutters showed up on windows. One of the dilapidated garage doors was replaced by something the man built. Weeks later, he replaced the other one.
Lucy and I just walked by the house again tonight and I had a sudden realization. The man was keeping his word. That house was changing. He was slowly fixing up that piece of junk. It was becoming a decent — if still modest — home for his family.
It’s still not a house I’d like to live in. It’s still one of the worst houses in the neighborhood. But it’s no longer a rundown place that looks as though it might collapse. It’s a modest home for a man who can’t afford much for his family — but who is giving them the best he can.
As I walked home with Lucy in the dark, it occurred to me that there’s a lesson for me here. I’m impatient. I have very clear pictures in my mind of how I want things to be — what I want my life to look like, what I want my world to look like, what I want my relationships to look like.
I want those things now. Not next week. Not next year. Now.
I’m not patient with myself. Sometimes I’m probably not patient enough — or kind enough — with those from whom I need things. I need people to grow and change. Right now.
And sometimes, change simply takes time.
There are some things in this life that I don’t have time to wait for, unfortunately. I want a wife who wants to have children — and I’m getting to the age that I simply don’t have time to keep waiting. That’s a pragmatic reality that I can’t control. I’m running out of time to wait.
But what if I had been patient a decade ago?
Here’s what I found myself thinking as I walked home in the stillness of night. About 12 or 13 years ago, there was a woman who I was really interested in, but she wasn’t interested in me. She thought there was too much of an age gap for us. She mentioned that one time — and I gave up.
What if I hadn’t given up then? What if I had been confident enough to say, “I understand that you feel that way, but I hope you’ll change your mind. I think you’re worth waiting for.”
What if I’d done that back when we both had time? Instead, we went our separate ways and had completely unrelated ups and downs. What if I had had the foresight to be waiting for her? Would she have turned to me eventually? I can’t say, but I wish I’d had the patience to find out. She was worth waiting for — back when I had the time to wait.
I know what I want my world to look like — what I need my life to look like. I’m no closer to my life looking like what I want it to look like than I was 12 years ago. What if I’d been willing to chip away at things — instead of insisting on one grand leap to the future I wanted? What if I’d been willing to make smaller film projects over and over again? Would I have built to the bigger projects I thought I could leap to in one bound?
That guy who bought the house had the vision to see that some rotting junk could be made livable and could be made into something where he would be happy for his family to live. I have far too much human pride to allow something like that.
I know I’m wrong. And I know that man — at least in this way — is a better man than I am.
I know what I want. I know what I need. I understand that I don’t have the time to wait for certain things, but I also know that I can still do other things in modest, incremental steps.
I’m ashamed of myself for looking down on someone who had the patience and the humility to live in a house that my pride wouldn’t have allowed me to buy. And I’m grateful that he’s given me something new to think about.