A long story about a submarine, and my to-do list, and how one is messing with the way I see the other.
Last week my husband and I took our oldest child to Chicago for a few days, just the three of us. The agenda looked somewhat different than it does when it’s just Will and me, or the whole family of six.
Our very first stop on the way into the city was the Museum of Science and Industry, a place only I had been to before, and not since I was a kid.
When you travel with your family you end up visiting places and exhibits you wouldn’t have chosen on your own, and that is how I ended up on a tour of the U-505 submarine, the first WWII U-boat captured by the U.S. Navy during the war, in June 1944. If the Germans knew their sub had been captured, they would know that their codes had been compromised—and so the capture was classified, the German crew was interred in a Louisiana POW camp, and the sub was secretly taken apart and studied, top to bottom, to extract valuable information to assist the Allied war effort.
That’s the background. I want to pick up with what happened after the war.
When the war was over, the Navy no longer needed the sub, and it was very nearly used for target practice. But the commander who captured the U-505 was a Chicago native, and he successfully petitioned his hometown’s Museum of Science and Industry to assume ownership and display the submarine. The museum raised a quarter of a million dollars, and in 1954, the sub was moved from its resting place in Bermuda to the lakefront museum in Chicago.
(This move was a BIG DEAL, and the footage is really cool. The hardest part of the journey: moving the massive sub the paltry 800 feet from the lake to the museum lawn. As the museum likes to point out, the sub is as long as a city block, and weighs three times the Statue of Liberty.)
Later that year, the sub was unveiled to the public, as an open-air war memorial. The sub stayed there for the next 50 years, exposed to the elements. 50 blistering summers, 50 infamous Chicago winters, always lakeside exposure. U-boats are tough, but they’re not made to sustain those elements.
By the turn of the century, the museum could see that the sub would literally fall apart. And so they planned an audacious project: a $35 million plan to move and restore the sub and create a new exhibit, indoors and underground. A top line item: Undoing 50 years of damage from 50 years of Chicago weather. Removing the thick coating of 50 years of rust from the hulk of the boat.
I was struck by the sheer logistics of moving a 700-ton sub from Bermuda to a Chicago basement. Will was struck by the 50 years of rust. Well, that and the $35 million dollars. When the tour guide dropped the stats on just how one goes about removing 50 Chicago winters’ worth of damage from the hulk of an old submarine, he leaned in and said, “Remember that later—it doesn’t get easier.” I didn’t get it at first, and my eyes probably reflected something like, what does my life have to do with a u-boat?
He explained more later, post-tour, and I get it now. I’ve been thinking about it all the time.
We put things off because we think it will be easier later, whatever it is. We’ll have more cash to fix the roof leak, or more motivation to move the 401k, or more energy to find a math tutor, or more inclination to finally kick that habit.
But over time, some things—maybe most things—don’t get easier. In fact, they often get harder—because the tiny leak turns into something legitimately scary, or we grow forgetful about the details for that 401k, or we slip even further behind in math (or our kid does), or the habit grows more entrenched. Or one more Chicago winter adds another layer of nasty rust to a certain submarine. We’re not actually giving ourselves a break by delaying. We’re making it harder on ourselves.
(Last fall, Will and I came THIS CLOSE to buying a gorgeous house with serious water damage that began with a tiny leak. When we looked at the house, there were gaping holes on two stories, and corresponding repair estimates in the five figures. It doesn’t get easier.)
Of course, there are good reasons to wait, sometimes. Money is an obvious one, and relevant for the U-505. It’s a reason I can relate to. It’s obvious you’re better off repairing the roof now, not later—but if you’re broke, you’re broke. Sometimes it makes sense to wait until you have more time—although for me, the needed time rarely materializes later. It doesn’t get easier.
Since we got back from Chicago, I’ve been coaching myself with these words, especially as I tackle the remnants of my summer to-do list, the items I’ve been putting off for months. Many months. I finally completed paperwork I’ve been meaning to finish for six (!!) months. I could have completed it in 5 minutes last winter, but because I was fuzzy on the details, it took me fifteen. Not a huge loss, but a loss all the same. It got harder.
It doesn’t get easier. And so we’re tending to a few minor (for now) repairs around the house that have been nagging us for a few months. I’m eyeing the Virginia creeper that’s about to climb out of reach and take over my trees before I pull it down, and the once-tiny sprigs of poison ivy in the bed that are suddenly not-so-tiny. These are small examples, because they’re not embarrassing ones, but I assure you I can think of some big ones, too—some situations I made harder on myself, and it’s my own fault, and that hurts.
Maybe tackle something that’s getting harder, and tell me about it in comments? I’d love to hear about the thing that didn’t get easier for you, and what you did about it (or still need to do about it). Did you have something actually get easier with time? That’s terrific; I’d love to hear about that as well. Can you motivate us to take action today? Share your favorite tips and mental tricks in comments.