06 April 2007

From box to box

Not long ago I was chatting with my local Anglican priest, who commented that he and his family had had to get rid of lots of possessions during their most move, since the current house is smaller. Then in an offhanded way he remarked that the final "home" is an 8 x 3-foot box, more or less. This got me to thinking, and I've come up with a variation on the old riddle "What walks on four, two and then three legs?" The answer of course was Man: babies crawl on four, adults walk on two, and the aged walk with the aid of a cane, i.e., three. From the standpoint of housing--with a few variations here and there--you might say:

1. At the maternity ward you sit in a tiny bed, perhaps 12 sq. feet.

2. When your parents bring you home, you dwell in a crib, approximately 24 sq. ft.

3. During childhood and adolescence, your space is a second bedroom in the parents' house, perhaps 150 sq. ft.

4. As a young adult, with your spouse, starting out, you rent a small apartment, one bedroom, around 900 sq. ft.

5. Next you buy your "starter house," perhaps a condo, say, 1600 sq. ft.

6. Following that, you're movin' on up, and want to raise your rug-rats with plenty of spare room for their plastic toys. So you manage to qualify for that zero-down, interest-only mortgage, and with great anticipation you move into your McMansion. 3500 sq. ft.

7. Assuming you're not foreclosed on, when you're about sixty, 25 years or so down the line, you and your spouse finally sell the large house. The last of the children has grown up, and you don't want to rattle around the big place. You find a nice, convenient condo, maybe in a retirement community, or just a golf-and-tennis area; sufficient unto the day are a spare bedroom and a tiny den, all in all about 1600 sq. ft.

8. Your spouse dies, and you don't want to mope around in the condo all alone, plagued by memories, so you move into a much smaller, more convenient unit. A cozy one-bedroom, about 900 sq. ft.

9. You can't live on your own anymore, so you move into a nursing home/assisted living facility, where your room is your castle; about 150 sq. ft.

10. You're bedridden, so now your world consists of the bed and perhaps the nightstand: generously estimated, 24 sq. ft.

11. You die and they bury you in a pine box measuring 12 square feet.

Note that Nr. 6 lies squarely in the middle; the apex zenith of your life?

"We bring nothing into this world, and it is certain that we shall take nothing out." Some years ago I read an article--unfortunately I failed to clip it--that described Americans' childish fantasies about happy death: you're 98, dying peacefully as your heart simply slows down, in your clean, comfortable bed at home, with no medical equipment in sight, as your trim, adoring 65-year-old 2nd wife (the ex-model you married when she was 19 and you were a spry 52), wearing a snugly fitting but chaste black dress, kneels at your side, surrounded by your children, grandchildren, their spouses, all sobbing softly but not too fitfully. Every valuable possession you've ever accumulated is brightly polished and in good working order, neatly arranged in the house; you know this because just a few hours ago you were strong enough to amble through the house, looking over your antiques and family heirlooms, leafing through unfaded acid-free photo albums, making sure everything was tidy, accounted for and put away. At least 31 undecayed teeth are snugly in your mouth, you've enjoyed a simple final meal, and now you drift off, duly shucking off your mortal coil."

Don't you wish.