My husband is a dedicated world-fixer. He is constantly aware of new ways our given reality could be improved. Take a ten-minute drive with him, for instance. I guarantee that before time is up, he will have articulated a need and supplied a proposal to fill it. “What were they thinking,” he’ll ask, “when they designed this exit? Look at how many lanes of traffic I have to cross. They should’ve put this road over there and moved the entrance lane…”
The first vacation day we went to our favorite place at the ocean, he began fixing the beach. As I rounded the bend on my walk along the shore, I spotted Don dragging a huge metal grate away from the water. “C’mere,” he said. “Feel this thing. Those edges are sharp! Somebody could hurt themselves.”
Returning later to our beach mats, I noticed an odd lumpy bulge in the button-down pocket of his shorts. “It’s broken glass,” he told me, “look how much!” We’ve come to the beach nearly every day since and Don has returned home each time with a fresh deposit of glass shards.
A few days ago we strolled together along the sand. As Don stopped to retrieve a large chunk of blue-green glass, I renewed my almost-daily complaint about this practice—or more accurately, about the attitude I felt it bespoke. “Just once,” I declared, “I’d like to see you enjoy the beach exactly as it comes, without being preoccupied by its dangers.”
“I’m not preoccupied,” he insisted. “I just have it at the back of my mind. I don’t look for glass, but if I see some, I complete the act by picking it up so someone won’t step on it. I think it would be good for the world if everyone did that.” He paused for a few moments, then he said this: “Wouldn’t it be great if there were an art project here that recycled glass?” (And what’d’ya know? There is.)
So I got to thinking. Who am I to argue against altruism? Especially since we seem to be hard-wired for it, according to an article one reader was kind enough to send.
Still, it rankled. The next day, as we threaded our way through the lava-rock tidepools, Don suddenly said “Wouldn’t it be great if you could belong to the beach? If there were a Maha’ulepu Beach Co-op, I’d pay $36 a year. Members could improve the access route (a bone-shakingly pitted and rocky red dirt road) and put a toilet near the parking lot.”
“No!” I said. “Then lots more people would come and we wouldn’t have whole sections to ourselves most days.”
“The Co-op could be the forum for discussions about access,” Don said. “About how much development would be allowed.”
“Then you’d need people to facilitate the discussions, to make and apply the rules and regulations,” I told him, “and to collect the money. Every improvement has a cost, every solution creates a new problem. Some things are better left alone.”
Both shrugged, seemingly unmoved by the other’s arguments. We continued on our way. Shortly, I found myself pointing out a piece of broken glass Don had missed. “That’s it!” I cried. “I’m going to accept that this is your thing and stop trying to change you. Instead, from now on I’ll think it’s endearing.”
“Okay,” he said, reaching for another shard.
Those must have been the magic words, because ever since then, each time Don has diagnosed and prescribed for another infrastructural problem, he himself has found it endearing! “They should really target Silicon Valley businesses to relocate here,” he told me. “They have a very high rate of job satisfaction, but they wish their jobs were in a different location. Kauai needs jobs and the location is perfect. Voila!” he exclaimed. “Maybe it could be a project of the Maha’ulepu Beach Co-op!”
We came home from the beach to get ready for a drive up the island’s west coast. Now, Don has a gratifyingly high estimation of my qualities and abilities, but he sees me with two sets of eyes. The second set focuses on mundane tasks, and in their realm, he talks to me as if I were a slightly backward child. “That’s how you’re going to load the dishwasher?” he asks, suppressing a smirk. Or, with infinite patience, “You can drive that way if you want, but do you really want it to take twice as long?”
As he began to advise me on how to load the clothes-washer and I began to sing my familiar chorus (“I do it my-y-y way”), he stopped in mid-sentence. “Maybe I’ll just stop correcting you,” he said.
I think we’re onto something.
We stopped a couple of miles up Waimea Canyon Road to watch a spectacular sunset. After the sun drops into the sea, the show becomes more subtle, clouds and sky tinted pale pink, gold and mauve rather than the gaudy colors of a few minutes earlier. I glanced at Don. He was beaming, regarding the sky with a raptness, a concentrated attention that reminded me of the total-immersion baptism I’d witnessed on the beach a week earlier. Meanwhile, my monkey mind had slipped off the sunset and begun hopping around, collecting shards of thought: rewriting lines, thinking about what I wanted to do next, remembering another occasion…
I hope he found it endearing.