Monday, April 19, 2010

The "bleeding heart" turns to stone

Last week I had a nightmare in which I was holding my heart in my hands and wringing it out into a plastic bucket.

As my heart's blood finished dripping into the bucket, I jolted awake, close to panic, and was left wondering for a few minutes if I was actually having a heart attack. (The experience even came complete with genuine chest pain - which, thankfully, went away as my heart rate returned to normal).

This dream - the first one I've remembered for a long time - nagged at me for the rest of the day. What exactly was my subconscious mind telling me?

I went to Google for a dream analysis, and learned that I was probably either:

a) falling in love [not likely: love never felt this bad],
b) experiencing an emotional hurt of some kind, or
c) attempting to get to the heart of some matter.

Bleeding hearts can also represent desperation, despair, extreme sadness and sympathy.

Funnily enough, I've been known as a "bleeding heart" for most of my life. (According to Wiktionary, a bleeding heart is "a person considered to be over-sympathetic to the supposed plight of the underprivileged or exploited").

Here's the thing: it's fairly easy to be sympathetic to all sorts of people (e.g. "the underprivileged") when resources are abundant, and energy is cheap. Under such circumstances, fairness seems, well, only fair. And charity is both affordable and heart-warming.

When the super-abundance of cheap energy dwindles, though, and global financial crises snowball, charity becomes more and more difficult to afford.

But does charity ever become categorically unaffordable? If so, how do you know when (and what) to stop giving?

Mother Teresa famously implored people to love their neighbours, and to "give until it hurts" - which brings me to the subject of my neighbours, who also happen to be my tenants ...

In 2006, via a series of complicated circumstances, I rented my house (a charmless, 4-bedroom renovator's delight - pictured below) to a family with 5 young children. The father was known to me as a hard worker, and at that point the family of seven was living in a one-bedroom unit. (The housing in our town consists mostly of one- and two-bedroom worker's cottages, built around 1920. Houses with more than 3 bedrooms are as rare as hen's teeth around here).

I figured that the family needed a break, and I was in a position to give them one. They were very happy to be able to move into a (relatively) large house in a quiet street, and for a couple of years they were very good tenants.

Then, in 2009, the father was caught growing dope (but that's a whole other story) and he was sent away for several months of court-ordered rehab (or to prison, depending on which version of the story happens to be true).

Fast-forward to 2010:

The carpet in the dining room has not been worn out so much as composted - with the help of copious quantities of spilled food and drink, and a very relaxed approach to cleaning. In fact, the tenants informed us just this week that the dining room carpet had become so smelly that they removed it and threw it away. (They're now in the process of ruining the un-polished floorboards that had been protected by the carpet).

Most of the balusters on the stairway are broken and missing.

The baby gate we lent them when they moved in was destroyed and thrown away (whereas an identical baby gate, purchased at the same time, is still in daily use with our dogs, and is still in perfect working order).

The laminated particle-board kitchen bench has been utterly destroyed by a leak that the tenants didn't bother to either fix, catch the water from in a bucket, or tell us about.

The front door is coming off its hinges, and is being dragged over the carpet - helping to complete the destruction of both the door and the carpet.

The eldest boy has kicked a hole in his bedroom wall.

A window was broken. (The tenants had it repaired within a week - resulting in late rent that month).

Another window was broken. (The tenants decided to repair it themselves - with cardboard and sticky tape).

The list goes on, and on, but you get the picture.

As Lang was leaving the house the other day after replacing the leaking kitchen tap, he noticed the tenants' seven year old daughter writing on the wall.

"Did you say anything to her?", I asked.

"What could I have said that would have made a difference?", he replied. "She tells her own mother to fuck off, and the wall was already covered in writing anyway."

We've bent over backwards to let this large and "underprivileged" family stay in the house - while we live in a corrugated iron shed with no windows and no running water.


My heart has been wrung out, and the writing is on the wall.

Their lease won't be renewed next February, and as a result of having made this decision, I feel both mean and happy.

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