“I’m at the supermarket. I’m going to get some and cod for dinner. Do we need anything else?” I asked my wife.
In reply, I heard something like the following: “Contractor … bathroom … water …. insurance … if not, $10,000.”
Stunned into incoherence almost equal to hers, and now sporting a hue similar to the broccoli in the next aisle, I said, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, and I don’t think this is a conversation I can have with you on the phone.”
“Well then, come home now. The contactor is here and can explain it to you.”
Walking up my driveway, he greeted me with, “How’s it going?”
“Well,” I said, “Apparently it could be going better.”
“Let me take you upstairs and show you what’s going on.”
We walked into the gutted bathroom that was in the process of being remodeled. At the base of one wall, which bordered another bathroom, he showed me that the wood beams were wet.
“You see that?” he asked. “That’s a leak in the lining of your shower on the other side, and there’s some moderate water damage and rot. Now, the only way to fix it is to replace the shower liner, and the only way to replace the liner is to take out the whole shower. To take out the shower, we’ll need to remove some tiles, which means we’ll have to remove all the tiles, because there’s no way we’ll find tiles that can exactly match the ones you have.”
At this point, I wanted to throw up but, realizing none of my bathrooms were serviceable, I held off.
“The good news,” he said, “is almost all of this is likely covered by your home insurance, if they determine it’s not a long-standing problem.”
The “if” in his statement was all I heard.
With that, we went downstairs and called my insurance company, described the issue to them and filed a claim. In our discussion, the representative echoed the contractor’s point that if the problem was determined to be long-standing, it would not be covered. My contractor and I stressed that it was not especially extensive and, thus, not “long standing.” The adjuster comes tomorrow morning.
Unfortunately, his determination will not dictate whether or not the work will be done – the work has to be done, the only question is who will pay for it. If the insurance company, great; if me, not so great. While a negative outcome will not bankrupt us because I am fanatical about keeping a financial cushion, it’s an unwelcome blow upon the heels of the significant home improvement investment we’re already making. Resources will be stretched, the cushion will be squeezed.
In our personal and professional lives, we must always operate upon the premise that reserves are as necessary as the air we breathe — that systems should not be stretched to the brink because that means calamity when things don’t go according to plan. And they never do. This is a core tenant of military strategy and tactics, and there are countless instances proving how a lack of respect for it results in catastrophe.
The idea of keeping a reserve, of investing in insurance, dovetails beautifully with the philosophy that has most resonated with me, Stoicism, represented by its greatest thinker, Seneca. One of his most fundamental teachings it to operate upon the premise that misfortune and injury will happen, and to think they will not is the height of hubris. Thus, one must do his best not only to prepare for the inevitable blow, but accept it as easily as one accepts the rain.
It is those who operate as if nothing will go wrong who suffer the most when it does. Though my pallor may have turned forest for a while, my recovery was rapid because I truly accept that, from time to time, difficulties will arise.
What’s even more important is to remember that we are not defined by the difficulties we encounter, but in how we choose to grapple with them. It is the individual who transitions most rapidly from shock, to analysis, to action who best parries the thrust. The blows life doles out necessitate pit stops, and it is by our conduct in the pit that we rise or fall, for there is always something lurking behind the wall.