On being … strange consolation

By Ingrid Sapona 

In the last column I wrote about the kitchen reno. It’s going well – pretty much on time and on budget. So, though I had paid nearly 50% up front (down payments to different suppliers), there have been a number of major outflows from my bank account this month. When I see my ever-declining balance, I remind myself that it’ll all be worth it. 

So, a couple weeks ago I noticed that my driver-side front tire looked a bit low. Over the years I’ve realized that I’m not a good judge of whether a tire is low, however, so I didn’t panic or anything. (It was most definitely not flat – it just looked a bit bulgy at the bottom.) I made a mental note to keep an eye on it, and I did. 

Over the weekend I mentioned it to some friends while we were sailing, and one of them offered to have a look at it. He was surprised to learn that I had a tire pressure gage in my glove compartment, but that I hadn’t used it. I explained I never feel I’m using it quite right. He was shocked when he discovered the pressure in the tire in question was – if my gage was to be believed – a measly 15 psi. (All the others where at about 32-35 psi.) 

He followed me to a nearby gas station and filled the tire for me, telling me to keep an eye on it. Within a week it was looking about the same as before he filled it, so I figured I have a leak. So, one morning I decided to have Gord, my mechanic, check the tire. My hope was that maybe I had picked up a nail somewhere and that all it needed was a patch. 

No such luck. Gord found the leak but was unable to patch it because it was along the edge. Knowing that they always say you should replace both front tires if one goes, I said, “OK, I guess you’ll have to find me two new tires.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t that “lucky” either. Gord said I really need four new tires. When I asked why, he claimed he told me last time I was there that my tires were on their last legs. (That is not a direct quote – his language was more colourful.) Uh, no, I’m sure I’d have remembered that, I told him. 

I waited while he searched on-line for what he thought would be suitable tires for me. The grand total, including installation, ended up being $700 plus tax. When I told him that $700+ for tires wasn’t in my budget for this fall, Gord said, “Awe, that’s nothing! I had a guy in here last week and each tire was $700!” I told him I realize that lots of people spend WAY more than me on their car and so they probably have much higher bills, but how does that help me? His response: “I’m just saying….”  

When I got home Brian, the contractor, was working away. When I told him that it had been an expensive morning, he asked why. I told him about the tires and he too started with the “Awe, that’s not bad for tires…” I just shook my head and said, “I know, could have been more expensive, but still – it’s an unexpected expense just when I’ve been paying out a lot this month for the kitchen. And besides, how is knowing it could have been MORE expensive helpful?” That came out a bit curter than I intended and Brian sheepishly said, “I’m sorry, I was just trying to make you feel better….”  

I ended up mentioning the new tires to a few other folks and it’s surprising the number of people who try to console you about an expense by telling a story of someone else’s bigger expense. I don’t find such comments in themselves comforting. Indeed, it seems odd to me when others try to console by offering comparators that just don’t necessarily seem comparable to the person they’re trying to console. Indeed, every time someone reassured me the tires could have cost more, I felt like yelling: “For heaven’s sake, I drive a Toyota Corolla because I don’t want to pay $700/tire!” 

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what people say to console others. It’s a bit of a tricky business, isn’t it? That said, I think the true comfort comes in counting yourself lucky enough to have folks around you who at least try to make you feel better.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona



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