September 4, 1998

The Leak

A recent book about life on the PGA golf tour is titled “A Good Walk Spoiled.” My recent day could be called “A Good Day Spoiled.” It started out innocently enough and then it erupted.

My wife and I were driving to the neighboring city of Gloucester to have lunch. The subject of “the leak” came up. I do not blame this on my wife. I probably brought it up. Our sunporch has had a small leak since we bought the house a year ago. It has not been bothersome until recently when we installed a new carpet. Now it must be fixed.

Now you need to understand that I am not a handyman. There are few things around the house that I am qualified to do. Moving dirt is one. Putting it back is another. So any kind of projects fill me with dread. I know enough not to take them on. You will not find many unfinished projects around my house. I just never start them.

Fixing a small leak sounds easy enough. I bought some caulking and I think that I know the source. But the source is hidden by an awning which covers panels of glass in the ceiling of the sunporch. The awning must be removed and replaced, a job normally done by the awning company and a job which I cannot do alone.

We are driving along and I can feel my stomach knot up as the subject of the leak comes up. Most guys would be able to do this job alone. I know they could. And I feel bad that I cannot. I feel really bad. I continue driving, but now in silence. I have ended the conversation and turned onto the highway, but I did not want to get onto the highway. I will get off at the next exit. I am thinking about the leak. I miss the next exit. I wrestle the car off onto an alternate route and we drive on, still silent. My hands are squeezing the steering wheel into a different shape. I stare straight ahead with blinders on blocking out my wife sitting next to me and the rest of the world.

We reach our destination and my wife is the first to speak. Thank goodness, because I am locked into silence.

“What’s the matter?”

“The leak, I can’t stand thinking about the leak.”

We talk about it and she offers to help by making some phone calls to find someone to fix it. The anger erupting inside me is diffused. We move ahead together.

But this whole thing is really not about the leak. It is about the general level of stress in my life. I have a lot of new, big things about to start in my life and I am anxious about them. A few months ago conversation about the leak would not have bothered me at all. Today, it is a convenient flashpoint for my fear.

This is an old pattern which drains energy from my life. I can feel the energy being sucked out by fear. I used to lose days, weeks and months to this pattern, but now I recognize it earlier. I can counteract it. After our little trip I needed a nap. That is my reaction to stress. Others eat or drink, I sleep. But after the nap I went to an energy source, running. A good run restored the energy and got me moving again in my life.

So I am learning to live with my fears. We all have fear, but often it operates unseen below the surface. Recognizing the fear is the first step. But then I have to deal with it. I cannot think or reason away my fear, now matter how irrational it is. My taking action in spite of my fear is what diminishes it. I need to fight to continue to do what needs to be done. I need to fight to stay present and not tune out everyone and everything around me. I need to take proactive steps in the struggle. "A Good Day Spoiled" becomes "A Few Hours Spoiled." Progress.

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