Six months into retirement, contemplating the stretch of 2017 from the fresh vantage point of January – rainy and cold – it looks like carnage, a quiet village overrun by marauders, chairs toppled, sink filled with dirty dishes, windows stripped of coverings, a mound of wet plastic and cardboard in the courtyard, switch plates missing, electric outlets busted. A mess of biblical proportions.
A friend suggested writing a story about my whole-house update, my remodeling project that has gone on for months, finally overtaking me a few days before Christmas. The idea was to share the before and after images, the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly.
On Dec. 20 at 7:38 p.m., I signed off on installation of the new carpeting. At that point I was just the tiniest bit over budget and a mere two weeks behind schedule. But I had managed to make six fruit cakes and buy and wrap Christmas gifts, if only I could find the boxes they were in in the garage. What I’d hoped would be a triumphant transformation has turned into – well, a lot more work.
My son and his wife arrived from Los Angeles on Dec. 23 to spend two weeks in a house freshly painted and carpeted, yes, but totally empty. Everything I still own was packed tightly into the garage. I got rid of about half the crap I’ve been hoarding for years, but even so it was a tight fit. It was then I realized putting my house back together was going to take a lot more time than I’d expected. I’ve spun a thick cocoon and it’s going to take a bit longer to kick my way out.
So I tried playing Grinch, wanting time to think about how I would put my house back together, winced at the sound of Christmas carols, squinted with disapproval at the neighbor’s festive outdoor lights, refused to buy a Christmas tree.
My sons, who are those annoying Whos from down in Whosville, said, “No! Christmas is coming no matter what,” and proceeded to drag tables, chairs and boxes, what is left of my junk, back into the house. They bought a table-top tree with oscillating fiber optic lights. I have never in my life owned a fake Christmas tree. My friends Carol and Tony also arrived with a couple of energetic teenagers to help with the household liberation. And then we built a fire, broke out the champagne and partied—for days.
Writer Anne Lamott in a Dec. 30 Facebook essay referred to the yearly resolution to lose weight or make other big life changes and pointed out: “Horribly, but as usual, only kindness and grace–spiritual WD-40–can save us.” Here Lamott is referring to saving us from ourselves. In my case, it’s the quest for perfection, order, absolute control and other delusions I really need to let go of. “Grace” is my word for contemplation in 2017. Grace is the grease I’m looking for.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) comes into play in my makeover project. I’m about 80 percent done with my project and the last 20 percent will be the hardest part. I tried to finish my project before the holidays so I could sit around in my black velvet slacks and an ugly Christmas sweater – everything in place for a graceful and stylish celebration with friends and family—and accept compliments about what I was able to accomplish in the home improvement department. After all, I am on a first-name basis with half the staff at the Truxel Road Home Depot. But no.
My plan to wow folks with my ability as a general contractor and interior design expert, not to mention my multi-tasking skills, quickly turned to shit. As you can see, my hubris got ahead of me. The result was a letting go of my constipated expectations and instead enjoy two weeks of fun and a heart swollen with love.
So, I offer you a sincere Happy New Year! I take comfort in the words of Thomas Merton from his essay Hagie Sophia (Ramparts magazine, March 1963) “There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister. Wisdom.”
In my case and at my age, it’s hard won wisdom. I wish you Grace and Peace in 2017.