Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Optimism of Do-It-Yourself Plumbing

Everyone Needs Therapy posted an article here entitled Denial of Aging, a heading which guaranteed it would catch my geriophobic eye. She described a relative’s insistence on self-reliant plumbing in the face of advancing age.

I, too, inhabit those shores of de Nial. I am terrified of aging. I’m not old by anyone’s standards (except those of my children, of course), but I can’t tolerate the idea that aging has removed my ability to do anything, even the most mundane task. Until last year I mowed my own lawn with a push-reel mower, and stopped only because I don’t have the time to do it often enough to keep the neighbors happy. I go to the gym regularly and insist on lifting weights rather than doing a more sane treadmill routine. I try to read signs from blocks away. And so on, and so on.

But, for me, it’s not really about age. Aging is but one of many factors that cause me to insecurely wonder if I still-have-it/ever-had-it, such that I feel a need to prove I can do it - whatever it is. Along with aging, I can count Failure, Competition and even Boredom as prime movers motivating me to bang my head against a wall, waiting for the wall to give in.

It's a basic need to overcome obstacles, to feel Accomplished. More than ambition, it’s self-validation: I will feel more worthy when I achieve X. And it's an optimism that convinces me I can.

So if something comes along to make me feel like I can’t do X – signs of age, failure at a task, evidence that others can do X, etc – then I feel compelled to try X, even when the effort is not only futile but actually borderline self-destructive.

I have a Materials Science textbook at home, and I try to read a couple of pages each day. Why? Because after seeing Iron Man, I wanted to prove to myself that I could understand cool engineering stuff, too. I’ve cooled off a bit in the past few weeks, but wait until The Dark Knight comes out…

I have a Bar Ilan CD ROM library of the latest vintage (a gift courtesy of my shul at our most recent shul dinner, thank you very much!), but I am loathe to use it to search for passages in gemara, Tanach, Shulchan Aruch and basic sefarim; it feels like relying on a crutch when I should be able to do it myself.

And, yes, I try to do my own plumbing. And deck-staining. And a few years back I did my own repair and paint job on my car’s fender. All to prove something to myself.

I don’t actually consider this a bad trait, as long as it’s kept within healthy boundaries, as long as the word “borderline” continues to preface “self-destructive,” as long as other people are not harmed by my own need to do it myself, in my own way.

Just the opposite, this trait reminds me of the importance of Optimism in Judaism. We are taught to be optimistic about mashiach, we are taught to be optimistic about our own ability to repent and become righteous, we are taught to optimistically dream of a better world, and then make it so. Avraham, Yaakov, Rachel, Yosef, and so on, we are a nation of dreamers.

So whatever it is I’m denying, I’ll just keep on denying it, thank you very much. But if anyone knows the number of a good plumber…

Add to Technorati Favorites


  1. I go back and forth about this whole aging thing. Sometimes I haven't any problems with it and other times I realize that I have a major issue.

    I used to be able to play basketball four days a week without noticing a thing.

    Now I notice. I still try to do it, but now I can feel the results of the pounding.

  2. Yes, that's pretty much me - I go back and forth with it. No basketball, though; no time.

  3. Thanks Rabbi. I've always said you don't take away the umbrella until it stops raining.

  4. Therapydoc-
    And let's not forget the need to be wise enough to extend the umbrella in the first place...