Monday, January 25

‘Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.’ Henry David Thoreau

So, the renovations are done for a couple weeks. The process has been exhausting but a balm to me nonetheless; I love the smell of sawed wood and the satisfaction of building things. But I’ve already said that part, haven’t I? My friends’ home, which I am helping to refinish, is a beautiful place, full of kind and giving energy. It belonged to my friend’s grandmother, who I knew and loved, and was willed to her. It is an older house, the core of it built of cinderblock with several additions made over time, so the process of renovating it can be a challenge: updating what has been patched together and building over concrete with wood and drywall and paint.

They have chosen to fill the house with real hardwood floors and earthy colors, all things that remind me of them in many ways: Strong, solid, warm and generous. It is and will be a visually beautiful space, updated to be pleasing to the eye and built properly and to last.

But perhaps the most impressive part of the process is to see and feel the foundation that they laid before the renovations began. Before a piece of drywall was removed, or an outlet placed, or a paint color chosen, they built a foundation of trust and compassion and love in this house, one that they parade unashamedly for everyone to see. They have framed this place with caring and a sense of what is sacred to them that overwhelms any of the choices they have made regarding color or texture or product. To walk on its floors is to feel trust under your feet, and the walls are warm with integrity. I am biased, no doubt, by the generosity and support they have shown to me, but I think I am correct in my impression just the same.

It is a good house that has not and will not be one of Thoreau’s ‘unwieldy’ properties, the kind we see rising around us more and more these days as people attempt to fill voids of compassion and integrity in their own lives with the impressions of wealth that drive us into debt and beyond our means. That drive to build an edifice that impresses from the outside is so often built at the expense of what is inside. A good renovation can cover over crooked walls and update appearance, but it can’t fix relationship out of level or sprits that aren’t plumb. In an age of superficiality our houses often reflect our perspectives – something made pretty to distract us from what is not; a house made to provide the appearance of home, but unable to compensate for the lack of a home that it really is.

But not this one. This one is filled with good memories and being filled again with new ones, and it is not a prison in any sense of the word. It is a sanctuary, a sacred place made so by the intentions and actions of its owners. It is not ostentatious, but rather beautiful. It is not just a house, but is, instead. a true home. And if I am blessed to call it my home too, if just for a time, then I am fortunate indeed.