Giving Time

Dear J-

In our kitchen we have a window (kitchen window!) overlooking the side strip between the neighbor’s house and ours. There’s only a few feet of clearance, just enough so that I set off the motion detector lights when I go and putter about in the kitchen in the dark. I remember when we were looking at houses in San Diego how I rejected one house which was perfectly nice because I could see the neighbor’s yard from the back patio. (As it turns out in our San Diego house you could see four neighbor’s yards from our back yard, so ha ha on me, ultimately, right?). Our current back yard has a plum tree and a fence line dividing us from five neighbors. You can tell when they’re home by the lights.

At one point I think I decided if I’m going to live anywhere I’d want to either go very isolated or very dense, thinking Chinatown San Francisco to be the epitome of density and now knowing better. I rode by the houses in Burlingame this morning — where Delaware turns into Dwight as you cross Peninsula — and where the rough houses of San Mateo give way to more stately Victorians in Burlingame — and had a brief stab of jealousy (for what?) thinking of all that space, a second floor, and then I remembered this: we live within our means because we have more than enough, more than most and I’m content with that. More than content: happy, when I see the sun streaming into those back rooms.

The sunscreen speech (wrongly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut) would have you believe that living in Northern California makes you soft, too soft after a while, and I understand the how and why. I begin to believe that instead of soft it makes you selfish; I heard a couple of bicyclists waiting for the Caltrain yesterday talking about why they bicycled and though I’ve said many of the same reasons before — your own pace, efficiency — I was rashly irritated by the conversation instead. You start to believe in your own unique person, that there’s no one the same and when you realize that here in the city you’re not at the top you begin to want to hoard your individual qualities instead of sharing them. Don’t let that happen; let me remember how to give instead.

Mike

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