I first want to state that I heard this initial concept on NPR. A woman (I wish I could remember her name) was discussing racial injustice and the reporter asked about those who dismissed white privilege with comments like “well MY family never owned slaves”; or “I’m not racist”; or “I never got any special breaks”. Her reply was that it was like owning a house. When problems are discovered it is up to you to deal with them – even if you didn’t create them.
The comparison resonated with me; probably because of what I do for my living. I fix broken houses. I help others to find houses too; and often have to show them what could be vs. what is. And as I thought about it, I realized that this concept of hers could be applied to many areas of life. Insert racial injustice, or poverty and hunger, or climate change, or education, or our crumbling infrastructure, or imbalances in the access to healthcare, or any of the many other difficult to solve issues we face as a country.
The ideas rattled around in my head for a few weeks and I finally decided to put them on paper.
IT’S YOUR HOUSE NOW…
It is a fine place that’s been in your family for a very long time. It is large and has been admired by others for many generations. The exterior is well kept. It gets painted by each successive owner. The occupants keep the landscape watered and trimmed. It has a big front porch and warm lights glow in the windows at night. And now it has passed to you.
You are excited. It is an honor to be the new caretaker of this family estate. You want to be a good steward and you intend to pass it along to the next family member when the time comes. But after you move in you notice some things are not right…
In that dark and dusty basement that was a great place to play hide and seek as a child also hides a disturbing flaw. The foundation is cracking. You didn’t build this house. You aren’t to blame. But this is your house now. If you do nothing then it will continue to crumble. So, you arrange for the repair.
The kitchen sink is slow to drain; and sometimes the toilet doesn’t flush right. You call a reputable company and they run a camera through the sewer line. The line is original to the home. It has deteriorated over the years and tree roots from the great oaks in the front yard have invaded it. You didn’t lay that line; it was the type used when the house was built, but there are better products now. The sewage can’t continue to back into the home or leak into the ground. The line needs to be replaced. It is your house now and so you schedule the work.
There is a water spot on the ceiling of the third-floor bedroom and it seems to be growing. You call a roofing company and they confirm that the shingles are failing and the sheathing beneath them has started to rot. The roof needs to come off. This isn’t your fault. Shingles and underlayment only last so long. They are exposed to a lot of weather. They make new shingles now that hold up better and last even longer. This will be a big improvement – but expensive. However, it is your house now; and if you let the leaks continue then the whole roof will eventually fail and fall in. So, you figure out the finances and make it happen.
Suddenly that house that looks so good from the street doesn’t look very good anymore. They are trenching up the driveway and across the lawn to lay the new sewer line. There is a giant dumpster to catch the shingles coming off the roof; and that roof is covered with blue tarps. A backhoe has dug a deep hole in the flower bed where the foundation has cracked so that new cement can be pumped. Some people think you are damaging the property because it looks so terrible right now. Because it didn’t look broken, they don’t understand why you are fixing it. To others it is obvious that your showplace home was hiding serious issues. It is kind of embarrassing; humbling even, but it is your house now and you know what you are doing is the right thing in the long-term.
Back when you realized that you would be taking over the house you had made plans for some improvements. There was old wallpaper and scuffed wood floors. Someone had badly remodeled the kitchen in the 1970s. They meant well; it was the style at the time – but the style hasn’t endured and now it is dated and doesn’t work for a modern family. You wanted freshen things up and get some polish on that fine old woodwork. Because it is your house now and you are proud to own it.
But before you can do that there is a problem with the electrical. This house was built in a time before microwaves and clothes dryers that take a lot of power to operate. The outlets only have two prong receptacles and there are only one or two in each room. There is some exposed knob and tube wiring in the attic space; and fuses instead of breakers. You need to make improvements or the safety and quality of life for your family will be affected. Like many of the other repairs it wasn’t in the budget. But it is your house now and you have to find a way.
So, the neighbors and passersby see the electrician’s van parked at your house day after day and they know there must be problems inside too. Good thing you aren’t trying to sell soon – everyone is discussing the fact that the house seems to be falling down.
But it isn’t falling down. It is a fine old house. The foundation has been repaired and will support it for decades more. As a bonus you added much needed gutters and downspouts to direct rainwater away from the foundation to prevent future issues. The sewage now flows away just fine. The roof has a 50-year warranty and no longer leaks into the third floor. The driveway has been re-poured and the landscape repaired with new flowers planted. Inside, the walls have been patched where the electrical work tore them up. There are plenty of outlets for the computers, and TVs, and other components of modern life. That stained old wallpaper is gone and fresh paint colors applied. The woodwork and hardwood floors have been restored to their original condition. And the kitchen is now a mix of the great country style as originally designed with modern elements like a dishwasher and a micro-hood. It is open and welcoming and your family loves to gather there. Because it is your house now.