Mark Franke: Let us give thanks for the irritants

I became discouraged last week about all the aspects of my life which seemed to be out of control, my control. I felt that I was never allowed to choose how to spend my time. Others were in charge, like puppet masters. Just call me Pinocchio.

My solution was to make a list of the things which were getting under my skin. The list did not turn out quite as long as I anticipated but it still appeared to prove my proposition that I needed to do something about my life. Here is the list:

Leaves — This must have been a good season for the trees as my yard is covered constantly with leaves. The fall climate here in northeast Indiana generally alternates between days of rain and days of high winds, neither being conducive to blowing leaves regardless of what equipment I use. I don’t know which is worse: not being able to blow leaves due to the inclement weather or having to blow leaves due to perfect weather. It is truly a Hobson’s Choice situation and justifies my whining … at least until I take a moment to reflect on why I have leaves in the first place. Could it be because we live on a nice lot in a wooded subdivision, one that affords ample shade in the heat of summer and beautiful colors in the fall? Think of all the people in the world who live in arid climates, frozen tundras or even high-rise apartment buildings in densely packed cities. I will move this one from the debit to the credit side.

Meetings — I’m supposed to be retired so why do I have to go to some meeting nearly every day? They disrupt my carefully planned schedule of excessive leisure time and self-centered activity. I have early morning meetings, mid-day meetings and evening meetings. Enough, already. Why am I on so many boards and asked to volunteer at so many charitable organizations? Maybe, just maybe, it is because even at age 70 I still have the physical health and mental capacity to be useful to my fellow man. Too many people my age are either debilitated with declining health or, worse, still working just to make ends meet. My time is my own, which allows me to devote it to doing works of charity and helping organizations which hold the same values as I. This one moves to the plus side as well.

Home improvement projects — My wife has the impressive ability to propose a new home improvement project almost weekly. I don’t know how she comes up with these, but I suspect it has to do with her fixation on the HGTV cable network. Each project requires expenditure of both my time and our money, or I should say the kids’ inheritance. I don’t have time to take on these projects; remember all those meetings I need to attend and the leaves piling up in the yard? Sure, each project makes our house more livable and pleasant to the eye but it’s my time she is commanding. Maybe the reason she wants me to do all these projects is that I can. In my retirement I have improved my handyman skills to such an extent that I have a volunteer job at my church’s elementary school as a general purpose fixit man. And these projects give me an excuse to buy more power tools so that I have exactly what I need for the job. What’s not to like about that benefit?

I guess I should concede that my putative irritation at these things is superficial at best and outright dishonesty at worst. Each makes demands on my time but only because I have been granted that time to give to others. No one would ask me to do these things if I were in a nursing home or non-ambulatory in some other manner. And I do get to choose which volunteer duties I take on but, truth be told, I haven’t learned how to say no to good causes.

This Thanksgiving I am going to take this catalog of irritations and file them away in the cluttered attic of my memory where I am not likely to find them again. Instead, I will focus on the good things in my life. These are part of a different, more useful catalog—that of undeserved blessings. A few of these, in no order of importance, are my health, my family, friends and neighbors, my family’s financial security, my church and all the things I take for granted. Then there are those power tools I bought which make each day a new opportunity for enjoyable and productive activity.

But most important is my family — my wife, our children and their spouses, and the grandchildren. Especially the grandchildren.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected]