At the beginning of November, I became focused on getting a new couch. The couch we had was about 15 years old, ravaged by time, kids and pets. What began as a strong desire shifted into something that felt more like a need. So, we dipped into savings and bought a new couch, a new chair and ottoman, and a new rug.
After the new furniture arrived, I sat on the couch and stared at the rug but my focus shifted to the walls. The color was wrong for the new rug and then I noticed the cracks in the old plaster and though they'd been there for awhile, I couldn't ignore them anymore. So, I decided that I needed to repaint the living room. Luisa tried to talk me out of it because the Christmas decorations were up and the new furniture and rug were in the room and she was leaving for South Africa but I told her I was going to do it anyway and that she needed to help me pick a color before she left or live with whatever I decided. We picked a color together.
Luisa left and the following day, after grocery shopping, soccer, dinner and dishes, I moved all the furniture and the Christmas tree into the middle of the floor, covered what I could in drop cloths, and began patching the plaster. The lighting in the living room is terrible at night and there were more cracks than I'd thought and as I worked, I thought, "This might be one of the worst ideas I've ever had." I've had some pretty bad ideas in my time so that was really saying something. But the night gave way to morning and I sanded and washed the walls and a friend came over to help me put the first coat on and when we finished, it felt like a manageable project with an end in sight.
The next day, I did the second coat by myself while listening to Christmas music. I thought it would feel tedious to do it alone but it didn't. It felt strangely meditative. It took me all day but I finished painting, cleaned everything and put the room back together and rushed off to Zeca's band concert without a moment to admire my work. The next morning, however, I sat down on my new chair in my freshly painted living room with the Christmas lights casting a hopeful glow and felt at peace.
At one point while painting, I was at the top of the ladder, trimming around the woodwork and caught sight of my hand on the brush and paused because it looked just like my mother's hand, like a snapshot. My mother loved a good house project. She believed in hard work and doing things yourself and I can easily picture her clearing brush and gardening, painting and even laying brick. I never understood her drive to do but as I stood on that ladder feeling calmer than I had in days, I gained some insight. It's hard to worry when your hand must remain steady enough to paint a straight line. You have only your hands and the work before them and when the project is finished, the difference is tangible.
I thought of that while having my coffee and realized something else. Maybe my need to repaint wasn't simply aesthetic. Perhaps, without even realizing it, I needed sanctuary and was creating it myself.