I have been thinking a lot about Feng Shui lately.
Feng Shui is not, as I first thought, the evil emperor who battled Flash Gordon (that was Ming the Merciless). Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese science that governs life energy flow in the physical spaces where we live.
In English, Feng Shui means "wind water", which last time I checked, is something we try to keep out of our homes. But this millennia-old science has recently been perfected by western decorators who, for large sums of money, will artfully place doors, windows, mirrors, and furniture to optimize health and well-being in our living spaces.
You would think that a grown man who kicks off his stinky gym shoes in the middle of the living room and constantly leaves the toilet seat up would not really be concerned with something like Feng Shui. And you would be right.
But a sizeable house is currently being built right next to ours and I am worried that through the large picture window being framed just a few yards from my own, someone's harmony will be greatly disrupted, particularly in the morning when I make coffee in my boxer shorts.
You see, a local contractor purchased our neighbors' house several years ago when they moved to Cincinnati; when the housing market was still strong. The house lay empty for a while before a large backhoe rolled in and tore it down as if it were nothing more than a doll house. Feng Shui bled over the street.
They used to call the massive construction rising from the dust of tear down houses McMansions. But with the burst of the housing bubble, they instantly turned into McUpsidedowns. And until very recently, we lived next to an abandoned excavation pit lined with cinder block.
I have been thinking about Feng Shui because that was the view out our kitchen window when my wife's elderly Aunt Jackie came to visit us a year ago. It was her first visit alone, without her husband, who had passed away six months prior after a difficult illness. Jackie tried to pull him through with her indomitable spirit, but he ultimately gave up fighting. At some point, living loses its allure.
Despite her loss, Jackie came to us from her home in Seattle with her usual wellspring of optimism. She was glad to see us and we were glad to see her, but we could sense age was rapidly advancing.
One morning we all sat at our kitchen table drinking coffee, contemplating the great cement hole in the ground next door. The kids wanted to fill it with water and turn it into a Feng Shui swimming pool.
Jackie laughed and asked if we were still in touch with our old neighbors. She happily recounted previous holiday visits, before her husband passed, before the wrecking ball obliterated the Feng Shui to our east, when we would gather with our neighbors in front of a fireplace sharing holiday spirits.
I have been thinking about Feng Shui because Jackie is visiting us again this year, and things have noticeably changed. She is missing some of the life energy that has always defined her presence. The quick sparkle in her eyes is slower and betrays a deeper disruption of harmony within. The balance in her life is augmented with a cane. She has difficulty remembering things from moment to moment. And, after a year, construction has finally started on the property next door.
Jackie sits silently now at our kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee watching the construction workers frame the first story.
"Who is moving into that house?" she wants to know.
I explain that we don't yet know, that a contractor is building the house on speculation and will probably sell it when it is complete. Jackie nods and smiles, revealing some inner confusion. Then she returns her attention outside again to the busy construction workers and wonders out loud, "What was there before?"
Outside the bare wood rises up past eye level from our kitchen. Jackie watches the two-by-four sticks methodically accumulate until the skeleton of a living room takes shape and the eyes and mouths of windows and doorways drain imagination from the structure and fill it instead with the immutable architecture of its own Feng Shui.
"Who is moving into that house?" she asks.
I could shorten my responses a little. But I don't. I patiently explain the situation again, adding more detail. She seems to enjoy hearing it. And I enjoy retelling it. Somehow it all seems connected.
"What was there before?" she wants to know.
I have been thinking about Feng Shui because Jackie needs assistance and will not be returning to her home in Seattle after Christmas. For now she will be living in a residence that is closer to her immediate family, a home with people who are able to help her, a home where we can all be close and hold her hand amid the swirling wind water of life.
It is, I hope, a home where she can reclaim some of her beautiful Feng Shui.