SS: On Compassion – Letter from Sayward

Hello all,
I have been remiss in contributing to our community and thought forum. I have been writing this summer, but I am also at one of those chapters in my life when one issue after another takes my time and energy. I am trying to navigate through this period ‘doing the right things’. As I write this, as I think back on this chaotic period, I am pleased enough to see that my actions have been value-based. I have assesed my behaviour and feel okay about what I have done, am currently doing, and plan to go forward in a similar fashion as my energy allows.

My wife has been a type 1 diabetic for almost 50 years. She is in one of those phenomenal outlier groups of good prospects and normal possibilities. (Are any of our lives normal?) However, as an avid gardener approaching age 60, she has yet to understand her physical limits. She works too hard, and this spring she tore some muscles in her right leg and now has nerve damage. The ‘nerve entrapment’ can best be described as having a hive of bees in her right calf in addition to the extreme pain of the original injury. She can no longer drive beyond 5 minutes duration. The result is that I have become the facilitator and driver to her medical appointments. The fact that we live 50 miles west of town means that it takes up most of the day. Plus, as we are the main caretakers of her 86-year-old Dad with a bad ticker, I get to take over those duties as well. Next week I am slated for three town days, and this takes me away from my own life.

And what else am I doing these days? Why, building a small house, of course! By myself. Yesterday, I ‘got the roof on’ so I am feeling pretty liberated and plan to see my group friends this afternoon!! I start my days around 5:00am, and am usually onsite by 7:00….on our property. In the last 4 weeks I managed to get the septic system installed, my foundation in, the house framed (rafter…post and beam) the roof on, and the rest of my materials moved in and on to the sub-floor and under cover; protected from the coming rains. (And they will come, all 8′ as per usual winter). I am 62 and have discovered the help of Tylenol arthritis in the extra large bottle. The house is quite modest at 640 sq feet, with just one bedroom and an ‘open configuration’. It will have a vaulted 10′ ceiling with t&g pine. If it was in town it would be expensive. In the country, it will be a small cottage for my friend whose rent will just cover the taxes. Did I mention I am definitely not a businessman or property tycoon?

My friend is 77 and has to move out of his caretaking house. He has very little money and a modest pension. He has nowhere to go, and cannot afford current rents. He is also in tough shape from a lifetime of falling trees on the west coast and from too many years eating wrong and drinking too much. He is also the kind of man who will do anything for you, me, everyone. He epitomises a selfless form of compassion….towards animals, other people, even to those who have wronged him throughout his life. I have learned a great deal from him over the years, and while I don’t always listen to what he is telling me, well have no fear….it will be repeated tomorrow, and maybe off and on for a month or two until another event or theme arises. Aging, what more can I say?
I am building my friend a small house so he can stay in the same neighbourhood he has lived in since 1950. He used to live in a small shack where my driveway is. He told me they could see daylight through the walls, and they got water out of the river in an old oil drum. The windows in the new house are used from the Habitat restore, but everything else is new. He is worried it will be too fancy for him so I have compromised on the flooring. It will stay painted plywood sub-floor so he can leave his shoes on. He is concerned because my wife will install curtains with real curtain rods instead of the his blankets hung up over electrical conduit. He didn’t want a bathtub/shower, but I had to lay down the law and say, “Listen, you’re pushing 80. You will be one day be moving on my friend….maybe feet first, and then I will rent the place to someone else who might want to have a bath”. I have framed in the ‘cat door’. My little dog will be able to fit through it and visit him. He is happy. I am happy, because I love and live to build.


“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

That has been my summer and why I have been silent. I am in building mode. I am building a house for my good friend. I have been looking after my family because I am still healthy and able to do so. And most of all, I am enjoying almost every moment of every day and trying to do the best that I can….like all of us.