It was opening the gate that did it. As the vinyl slats scraped across the cement sidewalk, like fingernails on a chalkboard, I felt the layers of irritation that had piled on over the past weeks expose a crack in my intentionally cheerful veneer.
The gate was the most recent layer of wrong that I had noticed in my beloved home in recent days. Spending so much time in this space has led to seeing all sorts of things I skimmed over during the busy days of pre-COVID life.
For instance, I have lived here for two years. Last month, I noticed for the first time that the doorknobs on my interior doors don’t match. Then, while cleaning my tiny tiled bathroom, I noticed tiles separating from the wall; that seems problematic. The handrail on the back step shifts when I lean on it, storm windows are stuck, the grout behind the kitchen sink is crumbling, and there has been a tiny, red squirrel living in my garage, apparently feasting on the walls for months. All the tiny flaws make me grumpy and the work to repair them feels overwhelming. I am tempted to call a realtor to find something new. All this togetherness has me questioning whether I want to invest in the care this house. Cracks expose the reality of wear and I want a distraction. It’s all too familiar.
I live alone, yet I wonder what would have happened if this season took place when small children and a spouse filled my life. In some ways, it seems a small privilege to be insular enough to notice loosening tile. In former days, I would likely have been too consumed with the tension between my husband and I, or exasperation over the undone chore list. As I imagine, I sense the misalignments in my relationships would have been exposed by now too, scraping across the surface like fingernails on a chalkboard. I am sure of it.
That day, my scraping gate revealed a very familiar friend from days gone by. As I felt the irritation bubble through the veneer I polish to cover what has been there all along, I recognized someone I’ve known since before singleness, before motherhood, and before marriage. She showed up, as she often does, to remind me that loss and grief are dangerous. It was time to distract with something more pleasant.
Busyness, friends, purchases, comfort food, drinks, fun, all of them had been the tools to keep me from noticing the cracks. Yet, with all the stay-at-home distancing, for the first time, none of the tools in my toolbox of distraction were available to me and there was no grout to fill in the cracks.
For instance, I am not able to meet a friend to talk away my anxiety and there is no neighborhood boutique open to browse for an immediate pick-me-up. I can’t play with my granddaughters when I’m bored. When I am craving a burger, a macaron, or some other soothing thing, there are simply too many hoops to jump through.
I have nothing to distract me from myself these days. It is time for maintenance and like my home repairs, this work feels daunting. The void of quick fixes – the happy hours, impulse purchases, play dates, and comfort foods – shines a beam of light on gaping cracks that beg answers to, “What am I trying to smooth over? What unmet need lies beneath my impulses?”
It would be so much easier to pull out a comfortable tool – a playdate, perhaps. But there are none.
So, putting my hand over my wounded heart, I hold the questions and stop trying to answer them. I observe the tightly bound grief and fear that linger from days gone by.
Lurking beneath decades and years of the distraction of doing, I notice her, that girl-woman who hides beneath quick-fixes, longing to be noticed. “Hello, old friend, it’s been a while. Come on in. What do you need? I have some time to chat today.”
I know now that she is not my enemy, and neither is my pain. Both provide testimony to a girl-woman’s strength and fortitude. It is hard work to push open the door to the wounded parts of myself. I have avoided this conversation for years, yet I do have the time.
So, before I run to the neighborhood hardware store for curbside-pickup of grout and a live trap for the squirrel, I think I’ll spend some time shopping for some new tools at my personal hardware store. The squirrel can wait.
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.