Enough is As Good As a [ _____ ]

When Claudia visited in 2016, her first trip to the states in a few decades, we were acutely aware of how rare and precious our time together was. You know how it is – time flies with dear friends. You want to do everything you’ve been talking about for so long: Let’s make that no-knead bread and the homemade mozzarella cheese and a salad so you can dress it the way I love, oh and let me show you how we make our pizza now. Let’s watch Downton Abbey and Witness and The Lives of Others – and have you seen The IT Crowd? (Both stupid and hilarious, for when we just want to laugh!) Monticello is nearby, and Yoder’s, and the downtown pedestrian mall that’s so much like Burlington’s, and don’t forget Barboursville Vineyards with its cool stone ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion. Let’s take walks in the morning when it’s brisk and in the daytime when the sun is warm and in the evening when the sun glows in the western sky – oh, yes, and Humpback Rocks is a great hike, best in the evening (not like Tirol, okay, but for Virginia, a great hike!).

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We had only nine days. And when I had asked her ahead of time what she wanted to do when she came, she replied with one word: “Rest.”

So let’s, instead, be real. Life comes down to choices, right? As I lamented, she comforted: Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, which I wrote down on a post-it, duly translated and left stuck on the side of my fridge.

Too much takes away from enough.

You could play with the translation and say Too much is worse than enough or Too much negates enough. The idea made sense – if we try to do too much, the time will not be restful, we’ll make ourselves crazy, we’ll miss the balance. And the German had a nice cadence to it. But the verbatim translation didn’t quite work for me. It stuck in my mouth somehow. And it never occurred to me to flip it around and put “enough” at the beginning.

This past week I got help from Mary Poppins. As I watched my five-year-old great niece giggling her way through this classic, I stumbled on a translation of Zu viel nimmt weg von genug that I’d missed the last, oh, say, five times I watched this movie. After the bit of nursery magic when all the toys and clothes dance and bounce and jump around, finding their way into drawers and cabinets and closets, converting the room from messy to tidy in a few delightful minutes, Jane and Michael wanted to do it again. More magic! More fun! How can that be bad? Mary Poppins drew the line in her practically-perfect, matter-of-fact way: “Enough is as good as a feast.” Click on the link to watch her say it.

Well, look at that! In 1910, the setting for this film, they too were struggling with When is enough? Where is the line? Clearly this is not a new problem. Well before that, people in biblical times were likewise advised about moderation. Have you found honey? Eat only what you need…. (Proverbs 25:16)

The idea of potential excess, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-cross-that-line, comes up all the time.

What fills a day (or nine days)? Activity, yes, but how much is enough to be fun and satisfying yet avoid utter exhaustion?

What fills a house? Stuff, but how much is enough to fend off clutter and inundation?

What fills our bellies? Food and drink, but how much is enough for good health? How much crosses the line?

Decisions. Every day I have to make hard decisions – not every day as in on a daily basis, no, I mean continually    throughout    every    day – what to say yes to, what to spend money on, what to put in my mouth. Abundance has a downside, some would say a curse.

Funny, we don’t have trouble deciding how long to stand there rubbing our hands together with the soap before we decide they are clean enough. We know when’s enough. We’re pretty good about knowing how fast to drive (we value our lives), how much physical space should exist between us and the person standing next to us (how close would be too close), how many toppings we want to put on our pizza (how many would be too many), when we’ve been sitting too long (need to move!), when enough time has passed since we last heard from an old friend (time to send a message). How come that same mostly-good judgment can’t apply so nonchalantly and easily to (pick a temptation, any temptation) shall we say ice cream?!

While standing in line to get ice cream recently, the person next to me ordered a small but said out loud while staring at the price list that looked something like this,

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“I want the super-size.”

Aren’t people the same no matter what year it is!?

A friend who was watching her weight once told me that a small scoop of ice cream didn’t taste better than a large bowlful, and that when she had less, she savored it more – or at least she was trying to train herself to think this way!

Maybe training is the answer. We can train ourselves (or be trained) to do new tasks at work. We adapt to new surroundings or circumstances with a bit of self-talk. It’s an idea.

Hmmm, but I like a feast as well as anyone. (We have only nine days! … That bread is fresh now! … I really like that bowl/table/shirt/game/book/gadget!)

How about mental gymnastics? Maybe I could reconfigure the feast, spread it out over time a bit or have one a little less often?

I hear once again my wise professor’s words. The topic at the time was bacon: Should I eat it? Shouldn’t I? How much? He calmly said three words: Balance. Variety, Moderation. Is it really that simple? Maybe.

His First Book at 85

Throughout his life Hank Browne was fascinated with ruins of all kinds: skeletons of houses and churches long since abandoned, roofs falling in, canals overgrown, kilns and forges crumbling by way of one tiny crack at a time, bridges unused and slowly disintegrating, walls and chimneys freestanding – all of which at one time had stood new and coherent and sound. To him the ruins were a testament to the skills, needs, hard work, challenges and creativity of those who came before us. They were a window into time past, a reflection of the power of nature when left to itself. To him they were beautiful.

For thirty years he wanted to tell the world. Four years ago he began earnestly, building a team and developing ideas that would make his book about ruins a reality. Last night we gathered in his living room to celebrate his achievement, his dream come true. Hank and his book, Vanishing History: Ruins in Virginia, were featured on “Charlottesville Inside Out,” a local PBS (WHTJ) show that introduces the community to extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.

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Host Terri Allard, in her signature style that both charms and engages, interviewed Hank and his photographer, Kevin MacNutt, at the ruins of Governor James Barbour’s home on the grounds of Barboursville Vineyards. A fire on Christmas day in 1884 destroyed the beautiful home that Thomas Jefferson had designed when the United States was a new nation. It is one of the amazing structures still standing, still speaking of its past, that Hank included in his book, and was therefore a perfect backdrop for the PBS segment.

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Hank’s book jacket bio states that his career as an architect included “the challenge of finding technical solutions to the preservation of architectural fabric and integrity.” He also “furthered his professional credentials at the International Center for Restoration of Monuments and Sites in Rome and played a significant role in the restoration of numerous historic buildings including Pearl Buck’s birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia; the Executive (Governor’s) Mansion in Richmond, Virginia; ‘Pine Knot,’ Theodore Roosevelt’s Camp in Scottsville, Virginia; and eleven retail and warehouse buildings on Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina.”

Even with all that, the writing of a book that was on his mind for 30 years reminds me of the violin story that John Holt tells in Learning All the Time, the one about the guy who was 50 and wanted to learn to play the violin but knew it would take him five years to learn it well and that he’d be 55 by the time he could play proficiently. This may be true, someone said to the man, but in five years you’ll be 55 anyway.

Let us not overlook that Hank was already past 80 when he took the first steps to create his book. He didn’t know how long it would take. Bravo!

With determination that crossed the line into passion, he had reached out to Kevin and traipsed with him through fields, woods, brambles and rain, time and again – hey, are you free next weekend to go shoot some more photos? When they had compiled an impressive photographic sampling of old, falling, crumbling and ruined houses, kilns, forges, canals, locks, train stations (like this one at Pleasant Valley),

 

bridges, mills, churches, industrial sites, viaducts, tunnels, villages and springs, they began laying out the pages and trying different ways of presenting the accompanying information.

Hank’s goal was not only to show the beauty of the structures – which, granted, is sometimes an eerie beauty – but also to advocate for the care and preservation of what he calls “lonesome evidence of man’s endeavors.” Writing a book has the advantage of allowing you to include what you think particularly pertinent or noteworthy, such as this quote from John Ruskin, a prominent social thinker of the Victorian era:

When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone upon stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our father did for us.”  

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My part started about two years ago, pulling all the pieces together to publish this beautiful, full color, hardbound book that was finally in hand last January. It was selected for the 2018 Virginia Festival of the Book and has sold out well more than half of its initial inventory through independent bookstores, Amazon and his website. As we gathered last night to raise a toast, first to Hank and Kevin…

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… and then to all the players who formed a part of this marvelous success story, I thought about all the good and necessary pieces of the puzzle – great people, vast experience, outstanding skills, wise use of resources, passion, determination, guts, patience, humor and mutual encouragement, to say nothing of hard work, long days and many miles traveled.

Just as important as what you have (and we all know this) is what you don’t have, or don’t allow, or effectively push away: naysayers, skepticism, lack of confidence, pettiness. These negatives always vie for positioning but they did not get a place at Hank’s table, so to speak.

Everyone else in the room last night – Kevin, Hank’s daughters Leslie and Tracy, Leslie’s husband Clark, friends Georgiana and Michael and me (how lucky am I to count as a friend!) – can vouch for Hank’s can-do spirit, his continual gratitude to those who have walked alongside him, his willingness to use technology (his laptop to type out narratives and sort through Kevin’s photo files, a clicker when giving powerpoint presentations), his unquenchable fascination with all things built with care and expert craftsmanship (especially those that have seen better days), and his steadfast belief that some things (especially those that have seen better days) deserve our attention, our praise, our protection.

And he’s not calling it quits. A book about ruins in Maryland is in the works!

When I am in my 80s (Lord willing, I will get there!), I hope I am eager to brave what is new, to embrace the as-yet-unmet goals in my life, and to forge ahead with the same grace, the same energy, the same fortitude that this wonderful man has shown. And I hope there is someone with an arm around me, saying to me as I say to Hank: Bravo! You did it!

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