From our second floor rental in Glasgow, I am in the perfect position to examine the comings and goings of the various craftsmen involved in the major renovation of our new ground floor apartment in the next house down the street. Eddie’s van is blue with white and red writing: MARYHILL BUILDERS. When I see it’s parked outside, I feel reassured. He is our main builder and coordinates carpenters, plumbers, electricians, glaziers, kitchen fitters, tilers, stove fitters and painters. Most of them know each other, some of them are the other’s in-laws, and all of them are quick to speak Glass Ways. I, the German customer and project manager, understand about half of what they are saying, which, together with the fact that I don’t know much about construction work, is a challenge for all of us. However, in my early thirties I spent a few years as part of a women’s team converting a farm into a retreat center (Taraloka Retreat Center for Women), and although this seems like a long time ago, there is still some trust lag in my bones ; Understanding of masonry and wood and how they respond to tools; a sense of how a project organically evolves from plans, unexpected results and circumstances; and mistakes – many of them.
There are also accidents and deaths: just as we were returning to work after a three-month COVID-19 lockdown, the plumber’s father died of an unexpected heart attack after falling. So he understandably took another week off. The glazier had recently suffered a stroke and forgot all that had been agreed on to replace windows. The electrician injured his back, fell off a ladder and had to rest. I pray Eddie, who is probably in his late sixties, will take good care of himself. Sometimes he doesn’t eat until the afternoon and smokes cigarettes.
Eddie is the kind of person you would want your grandfather to be: calm and polite even in difficult circumstances, a wink when he greets you, a wink when you leave, and responsible without being. Despite arthritic joints, he is wiry and strong and has dry skin that has been strengthened from decades of exposure to dust and fumes of all kinds of pollutants. We’re similarly tall, our heads bowing towards each other as we try to decipher our accents while maintaining social distance. “Say that again?” “Do you want a face to cover that joint?” “What is a face?”
The awareness of a possible infection by the coronavirus is omnipresent. I wash my hands when I come back from my daily check-ins with the builders and remember that life is not a rehearsal for a future move-in date. After all the time we’ve spent looking for the “Best Buy” washing machine, fridge-freezer and dishwasher, the best matching bathroom tiles and wooden floorboards for our underfloor heating, there is no guarantee that my husband and I will actually be there enjoying it or doing it for a very long time. Whatever the pleasure life or our own heart may offer us, it is better now. It makes no sense to find out about missed appointments or deliveries of items that I have never ordered. Like a large shower basin and glass door panels cluttering the space and seemingly impossible to be picked up for return despite dozens of phone calls, emails, and text messages with Better Bathrooms and Palletways staff. Getting stuck on the phone with a little muzak that is affecting my emotional resilience despite my best intentions to stay grounded and calm.
My daily practice of mindful movement and meditation is absolutely necessary, but nonetheless there have been some stressful and sleepless nights. “I spent a few hours imagining worst-case scenarios,” I tell Eddie when we check in that morning. He gives me an encouraging smile. “I was wondering if rats and mice could build nests out of the mineral wool we placed between the beams.” Eddie tells me that he had problems with mice in his own house and laid concrete with shards of glass embedded in it to keep them away. Or something similar; I don’t understand the full story and I’m not sure how it relates to my question. But that doesn’t matter. Right from the start I decided to trust him fundamentally and to keep an eye on things. a sensitive and fine balance. For example, the tiler was about to install tiles on a section of the bathroom wall when I noticed that a waste tube was packed in such a way that there wasn’t enough room for the closet I had already bought. “Eddie, do you have a minute to look at something in the bathroom? And do you bring your tape measure? “He’s easy to admit and correct mistakes he or his men have made, and maybe my practice helps keep blame out. Or maybe it’s the profiteroles that I offer them on occasion.
After being on call this way for a few weeks, I decide to attend an online meditation retreat. I would still need to be involved in the construction, and part of the intent is to gain more insight into the dynamics of being and acting – how to enable more continuity of consciousness. The retreat is structured according to this excerpt from a famous poem by Rumi:
Beyond ideas of wrongdoing and wrongdoing,
There is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies in this grass
The world is too full to speak of.
Ideas, language, even the term “each other”
doesn’t make sense.
Exercise leader Paramananda is able to create a sense of connection between the 60 of us who are uniting through our screens from around the world. “Imagine we’re all sitting in the same room together,” he says in his deep, mumbling growl, which I also find it difficult to understand. “Soften your face and imagine everyone else’s faces softening.” In my meditations I have remember Eddie who never meditated but didn’t open an eyelid when I explained to him that I wanted him to build a meditation platform over my bed. Paramananda compares the current pandemic to a bardo, a void, or a disruption to normal consciousness. The conditions that led to the COVID-19 outbreak reveal the hubris of humanity, the way we have become intoxicated with our power to rule and exploit the natural world. What can we do with this interruption? “What has to happen is a simple change of heart,” he suggests. “We need to familiarize ourselves with our own vulnerability and weave feelings of love between us.”
When I check my cell phone after the morning session, I get a message from Eddie: “Can you come down? I ran into a problem. “I go down the stairs calmly and curiously. Eddie points to a section of the continuous underfloor heating coil that is dragging warm water through much of the apartment. The day before he had attached a foam pad to prepare the laying of the floorboards. “I put a staple in the spool. Ah wis Bumpin‘ Ma Gums tae the furnace fitters, no payment‘ Attention. Took an eye on the ball. Ah‘ma right eejit. “
Eddie looks dejected. He raises his hands, the palms of his hands look at me as if to say, “Me‘I am guilty. “Now what? Do I want the entire section to be replaced, which would mean a delay of several days if we wait for new materials to arrive and loosen the flooring that has already been laid, or would I accept a joint repair? I don’t want to decide for yourself, so I ask my husband Larry to come down and have the situation explained to him too‘I am aware that this is a decision that not only affects us but also future residents of this apartment, who may not be aware of a possible weak point in the system. After some discussion, we decide to include a joint and make sure it can be easily monitored with removable planks and an explanatory label.
Predictably, during the next meditation, the situation will play out in my head and I notice that I have no anger or guilt towards Eddie, just compassion for him feeling bad about what happened. And I enjoy a rich and subtle sense of connection with him, Paramananda and the other retreatants, a connection that doesn’t depend on understanding every word spoken at all.
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