One of the never-ending issues of my life with mother was making the bed. “Why bother?” I would ask. “It will just get messed up again, anyway.” We spent an amazing amount of time and energy discussing beds. Why bother battling over something so trivial?
School was a different matter. I caught her urgency about the need to get a good education. “Why bother?” did not apply to homework or studying. I would stay up half the night trying to find a more elegant solution to a math problem just so I could impress my teacher the next day. I went the extra two miles with everything and missed out on a lot of the fun of being a teen-ager. I won a scholarship and went to university. “Why bother?” the neighbors said. “She’ll just get married anyway.”
When I became a teacher, I wanted all the loose ends tied up at all times. I soon learned that every classroom situation can’t be anticipated, and that I did some of my best teaching when I was challenged with the unexpected. When I was superbly prepared, I became so committed to sticking to my lesson plan that I could not follow my students where they needed to go. Why bother preparing at all? I wondered sometimes. Nonetheless, I left very few blanks in my day book, even though I often did not bother looking at at my lesson plans.
Why bother? Why bother with the extras? Why bother learning how to use the audio-visual equipment? Why bother taking a non-credit summer course? Why bother spending hour after hour trying to explain grade five grammar to a grade ten student? Why bother checking the bathrooms to see if anyone was smoking, if I wasn’t going to turn the culprits in anyway?
And then there was the one which has made trouble for me all my life: Why bother speaking up? I have an affinity for the minority opinion, a natural inclination to side with the underdog. When everyone seems happy with a situation or a decision, if ignorance is bliss, why bother rocking the boat? Why bother defending someone I don’t like? Why bother struggling to be heard when nobody will listen?
As my life filled up to overflowing with husband, house, pets and children, “Why bother?” took another twist. When one is faced with thirty hours of work to complete in one day, it is important to know where to cut corners, what to leave out. Mothers need time to laugh and take naps and enjoy the antics of their growing children. Many of the tasks that seem so vital today will not mean much ten years from now. A perfectionist is like the gardener who compulsively keeps one or two rows perfectly cultivated, sprayed and weeded, leaving no time to care for the garden as a whole.
In the last city I lived, our church had a defunct piano in the basement. Not only was it hopelessly out of tune, but some of the keys were broken, and many would make no sound at all. The poor thing had been beaten with a stick, they told me. It was in such terrible shape that nobody could use it, but why bother fixing it if no one was using it?
One day, when I was getting my piano tuned, I asked the piano tuner to examine the church piano. He said there was still life in it, and offered to buy it for $150, or fix it for $650. A friend and I decided to solicit sponsors and go for a 46 – kilometer bike ride to raise the money. We were neither young nor athletic. Neither of us had ever ridden a bicycle further than ten kilometers at one go. Why bother trying something that everyone said would never work?
We trained furiously for two weeks, and attracted a lot of attention. My friend had custom T-shirts made up – “Geri-Trek ’92” – with our names on the back. We wore them to church one Sunday. I wrote a motivational song to the tune of Happy Wanderer (“We must, we must, we must make all those truckers eat our dust…”), and we sang it in the church basement with our guitars. Members of the congregation got into the act as a “pit crew”, supplying us with encouragement and refreshments along the route. With that much enthusiasm behind us, we had a great ride and raised $850. Not only did we get the piano fixed, but we discovered how much we enjoyed biking, and had many more great rides together. Later, we put on our spandex shorts and neon caps and sang our song at the community choir fun night. Those were glorious times, and we have the pictures to prove it.
I am an empty-nester now. Instead of doing whatever it is that unemployed empty-nesters are supposed to to, I average three to five hours a day writing (my record is eleven hours, resulting in very sore shoulders). I spend at least another hour researching markets, surfing the Net, trying to keep accurate records, and haunting the post office. I spend about three times as much money on this new career as I earn.
Recently, I came back from the post office waving a letter from an editor. “She wants revisions,” I said excitedly . The list was a page and a half long.
My husband looked at me quizzically. “What’s that – a five-dollar story?” he asked.
He was too tactful to say it out loud, but I could see the question in his eyes. Why bother?
“Why bother?” is an existential question. How I choose to answer it each day determines who I am becoming. My bed is still unmade four days out of five, and I may be a bit repetitive when I chatter on about my writing. But I have some great memories, and I am not finished yet. Why bother?