Friday, May 24, 2019

Everything Human Must Be Maintained

We’re in New York City right now, here to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from college. The city has become a sort of second home for my wife and me these past few years as we’ve regularly visited our girl, and I expect that won’t change as her plans are to continue living here for the time being pursuing her career in the theater.

Yesterday morning I met my parents, who are also here for the ceremonies, at Vessel, a recently completed landmark building/work of art constructed as the centerpiece of the Hudson Yard redevelopment. It’s a new, shiny thing, a feat of human creativity and industriousness, and whatever you think of its artistic merits, there is no doubt that it stands, like the rest of this city, as a bold statement about things we human beings can do.

After taking our photos, we walked back into the city, dodging our way through the barriers and caution cones that are there to protect we pitiful pedestrians from the massive amount of construction taking place in this area as it revitalizes. It reminded me of my own neighborhood back home in Seattle with its skyline of tower cranes and maze of closed sidewalks. Later on, we walked under some of the ubiquitous scaffolding of NYC, evidence that this or that building was receiving its facelift; roadways were being dug up as crews worked on underground infrastructure; planters were being weeded and watered; sidewalks pressure washed and swept; every block, it seemed, presented at least one temporary obstacle made necessary by the need for something to be repaired or maintained or created anew.

It’s easy to become frustrated, to be brought down a bit by the noise, dust, and ugliness, but, of course, it’s a necessary part of any vital city: everything human must be maintained. And that doesn’t just go for cities. Farms and villages, cars and bicycles, gardens and parks, art and science, indeed anything created by humans carries with it the obligation of maintenance, even including, perhaps especially including, such human things as our relationships, our mental and physical health, and love. Without our constant attention, all of the things we hold most dear begin to erode, to come apart, to fray around the edges, just as the brand new Vessel has already begun to do.

In fact, life is about waking each morning, maintaining, repairing, and improving things, only to arise the following morning to find we have to do it again. It is relentless, which is why we need to find ways to step outside of it, if even for a moment. Meditation, alcohol, video games, reading, or simply spending time in nature (where maintenance is not required), it seems to me, are examples of ways we try to temporarily remove ourselves from the never-ending obligations of maintenance. It occurs to me that this is also one of the blessings of spending our days in the world of young children, humans who have not yet been taught the lessons of maintenance.

It gets to all of us at times, even overwhelms us, but there is none but temporary escape if we are to fully engage this world as humans. A city that is not maintained is one that is dying: an unmaintained life is likewise one that leads to despair no matter how much we wish it otherwise. And so we rise each morning, wrestle life back into shape, then rise the following morning to do it again. It’s true for each of us. Whether to embrace or fight it is up to us.      

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