The Fixer … my way

teethA few days ago I was driving across St. Clair and I saw this sign in a dentist’s office window:  “Give your bridal party the gift of white teeth.”  Holy crap!  How do you call up your friend and ask her/him to be a part of your wedding and then add that you’d like their teeth cleaned?  What happened to giving them a butter dish engraved with your name and the date of the marriage?  I pulled away laughing and wondering why the world is so intent on finding ways to make everything need fixing.  Fix your teeth (get braces, have your smile adjusted, whiten up).  Fix your nose (so no signs of ethnicity are left to give you away).  Fix your breasts (make them bigger, make them smaller).    Will we never learn that everything doesn’t have to be “new and improved”?  It could just be … couldn’t it?

Driving a little farther I continued to dwell on the notion of fixing things.  Ah – fixing.  That’s something I know a lot about.  It’s also something I need to reframe in my life I think.  Let me explain.

I’m a fixer.  I know that immediately puts me into a particular demographic; one that grew into adulthood when it still cost far less to fix something than to replace it.  Best of all was when I could fix it myself, living out Anthony D’Angelo’s advice to “be a fixer, not a fixture.”   My proclivity for fixing things developed while watching my mother who was a master fix-it person;  TVs, toasters, radios … if it was broken she’d open it up, figure it out, and fix it.    I learned how to tune an engine and adjust a timing belt when I drove a Triumph Spitfire which needed this done every weekend .  I learned how to paint walls and hang wallpaper and make art out of discarded items or pieces of cloth stretched over a wooden frame.  I can sew well enough to repair tears (and actually make a tailored suit jacket too).  I once reshingled a roof;  it needed fixing so I taught myself how to do it.  Took a course called “leaky faucets” once to learn how to fix household plumbing.  I like fixing things.

Somewhere along the way – really bit by bit the-fixeras my life unfolded – I took on responsibility for fixing more than things.  My family life was complex when I was growing up; my parents were both holocaust survivors new to Canada and trying to make their way to raise a family and live their lives  – carrying their histories and memories and losses.  The stories of my early childhood years, the tales of events that had unfolded, well … they were full of things and people and families and love being broken.  And I was here.  I was blessed with being born just after so many had died.  I had, therefore, some responsibility to fix what I could in the world; partly in memory of  those who’d been killed, partly as my response to the question “why did they die while  I was born free?”,  and partly to ensure that this was less likely to happen again.  I grew with the belief in my heart that it was my job to fix everybody and everything.

radarWhen you take on a responsibility like this you have to develop a kind of continuous personal radar;  I’ve spent much of my life scanning the emotional horizon to make sure everyone’s okay.   You – the one reading this with a frown on your face – are you alright?  Is there something I can do for you?  The radar’s always on.  I’m always on edge … ready to respond.  This doesn’t mean that I always read the radar correctly or that the things I try to do to “make it right” are the right things.  It does mean, though, that I’m always … as the Canadian national anthem says … standing on guard.   It also means that on an emotional level I’m mostly pretty tired; after all, keeping track of all that radar input keeps the mind pretty noisy and busy.

So I’ve come to see that another retirement challenge for me is definitely to stop trying to fix everything.  I’ve got to move more to trusting others to take care of themselves.  I’ve got to learn how to love others without taking on their struggles as my own.  Does that sound heartless?  I hope not.  It doesn’t mean I intend to stop loving anybody as much as I do … in fact one of the real joys for me in being retired is having more time to choose to be with – and help out – others.

I can’t continue losing sleep because I’m worried about how someone else’s problems will be solved though; in the end, we each have to face – and solve – our own problems … best with the love and support of family and friends of course.  Instead I really am going to try to listen with compassion, care deeply, and stay out of the way while others take care of their own lives.

Good thing I’m in a new meditation class; might need that skill to stop me from following the well-established “jump in and fix it” pattern.

I’ll try this and let you know how it goes.

LetsFixIt(1)Meanwhile a couple of my kitchen cupboard doors aren’t swinging open quite right so I’d best go and fix them.  Then there’s the dip in my front sidewalk where rainwater (and ice melt) likes to gather; need to fix that too. Got to get some tree branches down as well … might need help with that though.  

Or perhaps I’ll think about those things while I read a novel in the sunshine.  What do you think?

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7 responses to “The Fixer … my way

  1. Oh yes – another fixer! My projects included an MG with dual carburetors, a 125 year old house that needed 6 layers of wallpaper stripped and floors refinished, a Mexican tile kitchen floor, and keeping the lawnmower running for years!

    As for fixing the people in my life, my Mother told me in my teen years that it was a woman’s job to keep the peace and I’ve been trying to do it ever since!

    I too have recently realized that I can’t take care of everyone and that I need to pay a little more attention to my own self-care and let them learn how to cope in their own way. Now I’m off to re-wire a lamp 🙂

  2. Wow, I’m so impressed! I do some home improvement projects, but – re-shingle a roof? Adjust a timing belt? Yikes!!

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      My attitude has always been “if a guy can do it, how hard can it be?” I don’t know where I got that from but it has always served me well.

  3. Sharon Griffin

    I read your blog to my husband Glenn as we sat on the roof and looked at the stars (and listened to music from the iPod speakers your recommended). With an upcoming marriage in the family, we laughed at the dental story. And passing on a little compliment from one (Glenn) who prides himself on his writing skills having been in the business for many years, he said – “she’s a very good writer” – for what it’s worth.

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      Sitting on the roof, music, wine, stars … that sounds amazingly romantic. Indeed, I’m having some ‘tree people’ come next week to give me an estimate on removing/cutting back some trees that are casting shade on my entire backyard and making it impossible to see the stars at night. It will be my birthday present to myself; I’m a Leo … I need more sunshine in my yard.

      Thank Glenn for his compliment please. One of the things that I struggle with is maintaining a sense of belief in myself as a writer … and it’s compounded by this retirement transition when I’m having to struggle to find a sense of belief in myself at all. So, positive feedback makes more of a difference than it should but until I move beyond needing external reinforcement I’ll just accept that I’m ‘addicted’ and be grateful.

  4. I have recently lost a friend who is a fixer. She dives in to help folks who are troubled in some way. She is there for them, so” there for them” that she has trouble just enjoying being with a friend. Right now I have no problems therefore I am not worth her time.

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      Ouch … that hurts. I’m pretty sure that some of us, for some reason, develop adrenalin addictions and so we seek out the crisis that will make us really “pump” into action. It’s something I’ve had to watch carefully myself for a long time. If we define ourselves too much as “fixers” you’re right … we remove ourselves from the real joys of just being happy with others. For your friend’s sake I hope she figures this out before she burns herself out. For you … know that the struggle with “worth” is more hers than yours.

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