I’m no stranger to tools. My father is a retired electrician, and so was my grandfather. Somewhere there’s a photo of a five-year-old boy, standing in a living room on brown shag carpet, with his daddy’s toolbelt hanging lopsided around his bony waist. The photo is likely stashed at the bottom of a box in an attic, but the image is fresh in my mind.
I’m a fixer. That doesn’t mean I know how to fix everything, but it does mean I’ll try.
Last week my Jeep died. With a torx screwdriver in one hand and a red and white can of throttle body cleaner in the other, I attempted to fix an engine idle problem. Thank God for Google and How To pictures on the Internet. I’m no mechanic, but I’ll try. Today, my Jeep is running just fine.
Two days ago our clothes dryer stopped working. I’d known about the problem for months. The dryer would run and then stop mid-cycle. My wife would reset the timer knob with a few clicks and cranks, yell into the other room, “Brock, the dryer’s broke again!” and press the start button a few times until it resumed its mechanical hum. But this time, the old beast refused to turn over.
But I’m a fixer. And that doesn’t mean I know how to fix everything, but it does mean I’ll try. With a socket wrench in one hand and a Phillips-head screwdriver in the other, I performed surgery on the ol’ lug, exploring the innards of its time piece and discovering years of dirty build-up on the metal switch contacts. I’m no appliance repairman, but I’ll try. Today, the dryer is running just fine.
But being a fixer has one major drawback — the paralyzing feeling when you can’t fix a problem. When you look at your toolbelt or rummage through your garage or search through the hardware store but you can’t find the right tool for the job.
Like when my daughter was nine months old and vomited her food for several days. From a blanket on the couch she lay staring at me. Our little girl, once loaded with healthy baby fat, was now a sickly skinny body boasting a hungry frog belly. Her baby eyes cried, “Daddy, fix me! I’m hurting!”
But I couldn’t fix her. The doctors didn’t even know why and could only comfort us with the prognosis of “something like rotavirus” that would resolve itself after forcing nutrition into her starving body. But I didn’t like that answer. No, not the virus. The forcing. Any fixer or handler of tools knows you never force anything. That’s how things break. But my tools were useless, and my wife and I agreed to the doctors’ orders. We stayed with her at the hospital, caressing her forehead until she eventually calmed down and later recovered.
And at funerals, us fixers want to be there, to somehow offer a word of encouragement, to go home after the church service and visitation and feel that we resolved something for the loved ones of the lost one. But we can’t. We stand instead at a loss of words for those left behind, realizing in that moment there is nothing we can say or do that will repair the broken hearts. Our ability to fix is crippled. We have no tool for the job.
Or on a late night in 2005 when the F3 tornado tore through Southern Indiana and part of our neighborhood, killing over 20 people and injuring over 200. The twister lifted our roof an estimated two inches before releasing its pull, but that was nothing compared to the damage one block away.
Come morning, my oldest son and I grabbed our tools for the day: a handsaw, an axe, and a chainsaw. Downed trees and leveled homes overwhelmed us. All we could do was pick a yard, cut a few limbs, and pile them near the street for a pickup crew. Despite the kind lady who’d lost her home, thanking us for coming to help and offering us a drink, I was at a loss for words. Should I say “thank you?” Or “I’m sorry?” Words nor my axe and chainsaw could fix this.
Then later that same day there was the elderly man, staring at us blankly from his half-demolished homestead as we assessed the uprooted trees in his yard. No word of thanks. No word at all, not that we expected it. His heart and soul, paralyzed. Just the way I felt. I would have bet my own roof that he was a fixer, too.
And I think of my 91 year-old grandmother, doing well given her age but with the realization that she is writing the final chapter of her beautiful life. I’m reminded of many childhood weekends fishing on the banks of the Ohio River at her river camp, or playing card games at her kitchen table, her energy and fire.
But when I visit her today, and hug her, and look into her eyes that have seen more than twice my own life, I cannot stop nature’s call. I cannot take us back to relive the good times. I may be able to reset the timekeeper in the dryer but I am powerless over the keeper of time.
Fortunately us fixers are not without reprieve. In an age where we are taught to do something, to learn tools of the trade, pressured to say the right word or offer just the right fix, one tool hangs off our belt that is often overlooked because it cannot fix, yet it is desperately needed.
It doesn’t need to be twisted, it doesn’t need to be hammered. No special training is required. You need only hang it on your belt when another looks for it. It is for you to offer, for them to receive. This tool does all the work for you.