Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Parable of the House

Today I've decided to resign as Director of NALU Studies.  The reasons are numerous, but the essence of why I can tell in a story without implicating anyone specifically.  The title, "The Parable of the House," I think is particularly fitting because it says a lot about my own perceptions.  As an astrological Cancer, my home is vitally important to me, and whether I am working in a job, in an academic setting, or even just doing something for fun, it is important to me to have a sense of being at-home.  The following, then, is a story of a home that proved impossible to inhabit.

Once upon a time there was a man who had traveled the world, seen much, studied much, and spoken to countless people.  The man was tremendously interested in houses, but time and again found that the homes he visited were flawed.  They were too gaudy, on the one hand, or too bland on the other.  There were so many overcrowded small houses, and a few very empty large ones.  He had spoken with architects, draftsmen, and carpenters, most of whom acknowledged how wrong things were in the world of building houses, but few - even none - of whom were willing to try to do anything about it.

The man resolved to build his own house.  He found people to help who felt as he did, and set about to build a new kind of house, different and better than the kinds that other people had built before.  It would be small - at least, it would start small, there was ample land nearby for expansion - but it would be his, and it would do right all those things that other people had done wrong.

Unfortunately, his co-builders and he did not get along, focused as they were on parts of the construction process that the man didn't find nearly so important.  Rather than finding a way to divide labor, the man and the two co-builders fought and fought, and eventually decided to go their separate ways.  The house they were building was split, one half loaded onto one of those "oversize load" trucks and driven away, the other staying on the original plot of land.

The man was happy with this arrangement, but he knew how much work he had ahead of him.  He set about mending the pieces of the house that were left, and fixing it up.  He worked tirelessly for months and months, until finally he was satisfied.

After all of the man's work, the house was a beautiful one, and aesthetically the better for the division that had cost the man so much work.  While it was still small, it was clear to people from all over that it was different, more pleasant to live in, more well-constructed than most other houses.  The man was extremely proud of this house, and so he began working on plans to build new rooms, new wings, and perhaps even new copies of the house elsewhere.

The man, however, was asked to help with someone else's project, a giant office building that needed his expert assistance and experience.  The man reluctantly agreed, but only after he had contacted and enlisted the help of a young scholar to take care of the house in his absence.  The scholar, having seen the house when construction was just beginning, was thrilled.  He agreed to maintain and manage the property, and possibly even to make a reality out of some of the man's ideas for expansion.

Alas, shortly after the scholar stepped into the new house, he received news of a storm heading in the direction of the beautiful house.  The house was built in a volatile area, and while the weather had been mostly kind to the builder, the coming storm was stronger than anything the house had seen so far.  In preparation for this storm, the young scholar put aside plans for expansion and decided to make sure that the house would be secure.  His first action was to inspect the foundation.  Or rather, his first action was to try to inspect the foundation.

As the scholar tore through every nook and cranny of the house, he discovered that there was no basement, no crawlspace, no way to check on the supports that held the house to the land on which it was built.  He began asking questions, trying to find a way to make sure the house was solid, only to discover, to his horror, that the house had no foundation at all.  It was a beautiful house, mostly (inhabiting it had turned up some rough patches that needed smoothing other; some mildew stains here, some watermarks on the walls there, and some not ideal painting decisions), but it was a house built without support!

The scholar was appalled, but resolved to do his best none-the-less.  He would find the blueprints, close down a room at a time, and drill down and make foundations if he had to.  Surely the blueprints would say what should have been!  Only, there weren't any blueprints either.  Discovering this, the scholar began to panic.  He searched and found time and again that documents that should have been easy to find did not exist: materials lists, building permits, records of work done by plumbers and electricians, it was all missing.

Meanwhile, the storm drew closer and closer, and its magnitude increased daily.  It had become a veritable hurricane mere days before it was scheduled to arrive at the beautiful house that the old architect had poured so much of his heart and soul into.  The scholar was faced with a choice.  He could try to weather the storm, save the house, maybe even let it get blown away but use the same land to build a copy, or he could leave, knowing the house was likely to collapse.

The scholar thought long and hard about this decision, knowing that he would lose either way.  If the house fell while he was its tenant and maintainer, the blame would fall on him, for few people knew the house had no foundation.  If, on the other hand, he left, he would incur the disappointment of the old architect and his friends, and would seem a quitter.  When the house fell thereafter, no one would know that it had no foundation, and they would point rather to the lack of a tenant in a storm as the reason for the house's demise.

The scholar saw that neither option was a good one, but that the former was the more dangerous.  Better to escape alive and find another house, if necessary in another place, than to be present while the walls and ceiling collapsed onto his head.  He left the house as the storm began to descend, frustrated and sad, but very much happy to be alive.

The moral of the story, my friends, is a simple one.  For ye who build houses, do not forget to build foundations, too.  For ye who rather acquire houses others have built, do not forget to make sure they are what they seem to be before you do.

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