The case for renovation

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

 For people accustomed to buying things new, the term "renovation" scarcely makes an appearance if at all in their familiar utterances. Indeed for some, who are routinely in the habit of making a clean sweep of just about everything in their lives, the term is almost repugnant, implying as it does dust, noise and inconvenience, not to mention the intellectual inability to turn one’s back on the past. Lady Macbeth wasn’t the only one who wanted to out the damned spot, the blood of King Duncan dyed upon her conscience! We, like Lady Macbeth, are however destined to discover that physical actions cannot root out psychological demons. Eventually the predictable disenchantment with what is new and modern, and the flip-side appeal of preserving and adjusting to what one already is or has, turns the mania for rehabilitation and exculpation on its head. There is only so much regeneration possible after a certain point in one’s life. Facts are facts, and no amount of running or repetition will put the distance between one’s self and those ingrained truths. As J. P. Cavafy observed, "There ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself!"

I cannot be certain when I first began to shake my interest in things. Perhaps I flatter myself to say that until then I was blessed to have had more than my fair share of things upon which to cultivate my once blossoming servitude to materiality. I fully admit that my absorption was deeply rooted in an utter impairment of substance, the essence of which I mistakenly sought to derive from the seeming purity and integrity of the much adored objects. At last I realized the undiluted mixture I sought would have to come from within.

It is undeniable that until I put the brakes on acquisition, and opted instead for a mantra of disposition, I hadn’t fully absorbed the immediacy of life. How could I? I was always looking ahead, pining for the next gewgaw or product to complete my life, racing away from the unvalued moments of the present. The capitulation to immateriality started an apparent back-slide, a roll which gathered both speed and size and ended in a devotion to what was there already. Occasionally I would re-group and attempt to convince myself that I had maybe been too hasty in unloading this or that, but it required little re-examination to convince me of the propriety of what I was doing and I forged ahead.

n the context of material things and goals, the alternative commitment to preservation is a comparatively pacifying undertaking. The object becomes making the best of what one is or has. In that sense it is both an admission and a starting point, but unlike doing things anew, the process addresses the sustenance of what exists. It is intellectually relieving not to wonder whether one is inescapably dissatisfied with life.

Surprisingly there are some who, even though they may not be reproached for hopeless materialism, are nonetheless completely baffled by the concept of repair and renovation. It is as though their distaste for materialism works so convincingly against them that they cannot appreciate the value of using more than duct tape to keep things in order. This cavalier disregard for improvement of course applies both materially and metaphorically, equally to their house as their soul.

Renovation is not without its cost. Whether it is repairing the bricks on your building or adjusting your life-style to a less agitated territoriality, there is an outlay to be made. It is here that the cost of renovation in my opinion outweighs the model of replacement. First, it reverses the obsession with anything new. Too often, even in matters of the heart, we allow ourselves to become unhappy with what we have, failing to recall the delight we once derived from the new acquisition or relationship. Transparently familiarity will somewhat tarnish the accustomed environment, but we mustn’t deceive ourselves into imagining that "out with the old, in with the new" will remedy the situation for long. Second, renovation distances oneself from the very deterioration it is designed to overcome. The focus upon one’s weak points strengthens them, much the way a bit of temporarily painful exercise can improve the joints. And lastly, renovation affords the satisfaction of keeping the old girl happy. Sometimes it’s just good to do something nice for someone else