Not Quite Barn Raising

After a mere seven years, my house is now officially painted. OK, with the exception of the downstairs closet and one bathroom door that needs to be replaced anyway, but I’m calling it done.

The final two stages were completed in large part thanks to my mom and three cheerful and generous friends, two of whom, miraculously, actually like painting. Discovering this fact was a little like discovering that some people enjoy being accountants. Who knew such marvels existed?

It’s important to note that this wasn’t only rolling and brushing. In my usual impressively foresightful manner, I had prepped exactly one of three rooms, which means some people washed walls and others taped, definitely the least fun parts of the painting process, yet they did it, as previously noted, cheerfully.

Perhaps the reason communities used to have barn raisings is not only that it made it a lot easier to get your barn built but also that it made the process a lot more fun. I have a pretty clear vision of what painting by myself would have looked like, and it involves a good deal of self-pity, like in the comics when a character walks around with a rain cloud over her head all the time.

But this was enjoyable—maybe not as enjoyable as if we’d all gone out to dinner or the movies but maybe more so. We had a chance to catch up, chat about life possibilities, eat really good watermelon, listen to the Beatles, admire each others’ handiwork, and laugh over our mistakes.

It might not matter so much what we do as who we do it with. Thank you, painting crew, for your help, your good humor, and the reminder that so many things in life are better shared.

Did Someone Say Food?

If I go past entry number three without talking about food, those who know me will begin to question the honesty of this blog. I love to eat, especially other people’s food.

In his book Brain Droppings, George Carlin suggests world peace through formal introductions. I believe potlucks could accomplish the same end. Eating together is an intrinsic human behavior, like language, perhaps because of the bonds it forms. We may say all sorts of critical things about someone, but if he or she brings a fabulous spinach artichoke dip to the party, a lot can be forgiven.

I once took a long, overnight, third class train ride in China. The very accurate Chinese term for third class is “hard seat,” but they sell far more tickets than there are seats, or did in 1997, and I was sitting on the floor with a crowd of fairly cheerful Chinese people, far more cheerful than I. I spoke Chinese well enough to get around but far short of fluency and often understood my fellow passengers’ questions but didn’t have the vocabulary to answer them.

At one point during the night, the two people nearest me, better prepared than I, broke out their food and offered me some. I declined. It’s good form in China to politely refuse a couple of times and then accept, but I continued to say no. They hadn’t planned on feeding me, and I didn’t want them to spend the night hungry.

Then they asked me a question I couldn’t have answered even if I had known the words. It went something like this: What’s wrong with you Americans? You think you always have to look out for yourselves, but here we look out for each other. Needless to say, I accepted the orange soda and the sausage stick and redoubled my Chinese efforts. (A sausage stick does not belong to the sausage family. It resembles a cold hot dog wrapped in red plastic the way some cheeses are wrapped in red wax. It has the shelf life of a twinkie and tastes as delicious as it sounds.)

Closer to home, one friend in my office recently made my day when she brought me a breakfast burrito for no other reason than that she had made one for herself. Another brought me peas from her garden because she knows they’re my favorite.

Their thoughtfulness reminded me to follow suit, and I delivered banana bread to another office during a stressful time. I’m as capable of believing I don’t have enough as the next person, and sharing what I do have cures this feeling faster than anything else I know of.

We are a species capable of incredible generosity and incredible selfishness, and both are contagious. Offering and receiving food opens that generosity within us. So let’s eat!