November 5, 2006

A Parable for Reconstruction
My daily routine is being rerouted

My daily routine is being reconstructed. Directions to my new subway entrance (top). Blocked entrance to my house (bottom).

A creature of habit I get up every morning at 5:30. My feline alarm clock gently taps me on the shoulder or face (whichever is closest) to inform me “I’m hungry. Get out of bed!” No snooze alarm can delay the inevitable.

Work is three hours away but I get up at this ungodly hour to have some quiet time: to read the paper and eat my breakfast in total peace. With this buffer I can put off the chaos of normal family and work life, plus the realities of geopolitical angst for just a bit longer. But in order to do this I must function on instruments. My routine from bed to cubicle is set so I can simply operate remotely. No decision making required. I stay the course. Until this week.

Suddenly my daily schedule is in flux. After six years of stop and go planning we are finally renovating our bathrooms and our front yard. Two different plans and two different contractors suddenly converge and it’s full speed ahead. We are building a walkway from our front porch to the street and driveway. The front three steps, always a difficult climb, are being turned into four to make it easier to use. A paved walkway will replace the muddy stepping stones we’ve endured since we moved here. We are tired of this worn and predictable path. Our new plan will ensure a good entrance and exit strategy. Workmen inside and out, our homelife is totally out of sync. “Just where did I put my sample ballot, hon? The election’s on Tuesday.” There is no regular place for anything anymore. Everything seems out of whack.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Reconstruction should have been wrapped up a long time ago. And order should have been restored. We had the best architects advise us over the years, drawing up their versions of our perfect lives. Our household was to be a model for all. We trusted the experts’ judgements until we realized ours was better. Finances being what they are, we finally realized our initial expectations were well beyond our means. Our money could be much better spent. So we revised our plans.

I go out to pick up my newspaper promptly at 5:40 only to find the front steps are cordoned off with bright yellow CAUTION tape. There is now a precipitous drop to the ground, one I wouldn’t appreciate so early in the morning. So I must exit the backdoor and walk around the whole house, sloshing through wet leaves and mud to retrieve my morning pre-election analysis. “Is it worth it?” I grumble. But I continue my frosty trek anyway, constantly adjusting my tactics for navigating that slippery slope.

I shower and shave, make my lunch, and bid my wife and daughters goodbye by 7:35. After my twenty minute walk to the subway I find my easy entrance has been blocked by a chain link fence. They’ve decided to build townhouses on top of the subway and for the next two years my entré will be up the hill and around the corner. They’ve built a new, albeit “temporary” Metro entrance during construction. But fellow commuters wonder if it will become permanent. It’s a longer hike and my daily gradual walk down is now a jarring set of long cement stairs. At the bottom someone is telling me to turn left instead of right to get through the turnstiles.

I have to think my way underground. My normal instruments would have had me walking directly into a deep reconstruction pit. Even high octane coffee can’t offset these disorienting changes. My life is no longer close to the way I remember it.

Arriving at my stop I exit the Metro, make a 180 degree turn at the top of the escalator, and cross an intersection. I know the complicated traffic light pattern by heart but today I slow down and cross when told. I’m starting to feel unprotected and vulnerable. And I take nothing for granted. As I approach my building I notice the entrance is now blocked. They’ve decided to renovate the foyer and we are instructed to go around the corner to another door. The management assures us it will only take a few months and things will be back to normal by mid January. Again I find myself proceeding more cautiously and knowingly. My internal GPS is ready for a reboot.

What should I make of this coordinated effort to push me out of my morning complacency? It’s clear I can no longer be a creature of outdated habits. And I certainly can no longer operate by remote control.

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