A couple of weeks back, I was at the Capri Theatre, the local facility that shows films that don’t usually make it to the multiplexes. The 77-year-old building underwent a renovation some time ago. As I walked with two friends up the stairs toward the seating area, one of them pointed and asked, “Didn’t the ladies room used to be there?”
I pointed in another direction and told her, “It’s over there now. They’ve redone it, and it looks great. You really need to see it.”
Before we headed into the theatre, she told us, “I’ll be there in a minute. Minnie wants me to see the ladies room.” She popped her head in, came back out and said, “That does look nice.”
You wouldn’t notice or probably care how nice it is now if you hadn’t seen what was there before — essentially fixtures befitting a building of that age. It’s not an amazing ladies room. It’s the level of improvement that is impressive.
I was reminded of the renovation of another ladies room at Huntingdon College in the 1990s. I was on staff then and had encouraged my non-alum sister to bring her two young girls to a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the front of Flowers Hall. During this event, a lot of people were seeing for the first time the upgrades that had been completed in the 90-year-old building.
After the ceremony, my sister came up to me and, somewhat astonished, said, “This lady just walked by and asked if I’d seen the ladies room yet. She said I really need to see it.” My sister shrugged. “So I said, ‘OK. I will try to do that.’”
I explained that you really had to have seen it before to know what a big deal this was. The main word is old. There was an outer sitting area with an old couch, and there were two swinging doors where students went one way, faculty went the other. Beyond those doors, there were old fixtures befitting the building’s age.
So when the renovation took place, it wasn’t an amazing ladies room. It couldn’t hold a candle to some of the nicer rest rooms in the world. But now that there were new fixtures and an updated design, the level of improvement in this old building was comparatively astounding.
What I’m suggesting is, if you want to see a noticeable and impressive upgrade, take a look at something that’s undergone a change over many decades. Like at the Capri or Huntingdon. Or within me. Or you.
What would it be like to pay attention to not just the thing you see, but the level of improvement it represents? If you see things as they are, you might be tempted to focus on any number of things you want to be bigger, better, stronger. Yet if you take note of the difference between here and there — then and now — you might be astounded by the progress you can see.
Let’s just say that, for me, today is a rough day in the copywriting world. I’m frustrated or concerned that I can’t get in touch with the people I need to talk to. Or I’m waiting on more work to materialize. Or someone doesn’t like what I did. Whatever it is — fear starts to rise up that things are bad and about to get worse.
In those circumstances, it’s as if I look around and say, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Then I try to focus on the things that need correction and improvement. If I do that (and I might), I don’t even notice the amazing part of getting to the here and now.
Twenty years ago, I wrote this joke: “When I die, I don’t want to leave my body to science. I want to leave my body to math. That way someone can take another look at all the things that didn’t add up and come up with a different result.”
I don’t think my old joke works as well today. Because a lot of stuff did add up. The math started back in that radio program in high school, with those writings in the college newspaper, at that first job at a Montgomery advertising agency, my joining a church, and on and on. It’s been a progression of addition for me. (But also subtraction — letting go of lots of things that were in the way.)
Back in the 1990s, when I worked in Flowers Hall during the upgrade, I was in transition — grieving the loss of my mother and also trying to figure out my next step for my writing and my career. I thought of wearing my own sign like the ones I saw in the building: “Pardon my mess while I am undergoing renovation.”
I remembered that thought when I saw an image of Ruth Bell Graham’s gravestone marker during news coverage of her husband Billy’s recent death. Her marker said: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”
Isn’t it nice to live a life which offers so much room for improvement?
Take note of the progress you see today and enjoy your magnificent journey.
– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 8