I started a home improvement project voluntarily last weekend. (Generally, I have to be dragged into such ventures with cattle prods and pepper spray.) I'm painting the wood paneling in my dining and living rooms. Then I'm going to tear up the 1970s brown shag carpeting to expose the gorgeous, hard wood flooring beneath it. At least, that's my vision. I know there's hard wood underneath, and I know that it hasn't seen the light of day for at least 30 years.
I'm doing this for two reasons. First, I want my house to sell, so I'm trying to make it as spacious and inviting as possible. Second, I'm tired of the darkness of the rooms. I want more light. Over the past couple of weeks, I've felt squeezed breathless, as if the walls were contracting around me. That may sound melodramatic, but when you're stuck with rooms that look like they were decorated in 1970s remnants, you kind of lose touch with reality. I'm one step away from locking the doors, putting my ABBA discs on repeat, and slowly slipping into disco oblivion. Yes, it's that desperate.
So, I'm exhausted physically and mentally. The last few weeks have been just this side of the cuckoo's nest. The story is long and complicated, involving wasps and sex and shame and addiction and anger and therapy and chocolate. (In my life, everything involves chocolate.) I'm choosing not to re-experience it through writing at the moment, but the result was me sitting on my couch one night and saying out loud, "I need to get out of this house."
It's the house in which my nine-year-old daughter has grown up. It's the first house on which I ever bought/took a mortgage out. It's the house in which my book club meets every month. It's the house in which I wrote my first published book. But it's also the house in which my wife developed bipolar. It's the house in which I found out my wife was/is a sex addict. It's the house in which my wife took scissors and carved up her arms and breasts. It's the house in which I spent a year raising my daughter by myself, holding on to her at night like a seat cushion in an open water airplane crash.
At this time, the bad memories outweigh the good ones, and I really need a change of environment. I understand that any problems I currently have will follow me like an ugly wedding afghan knitted by Great Aunt Thelma, but I'm craving something different, a fresh start.
Those of you who know me well are probably in a state of stammering, wordless disbelief right now. I am not a person who embraces change. In fact, I generally flee from change. Change has never been the best of friends to me. Change is that guy on the football team who used to hammer me with dodge balls. Change, for the most part, leaves me bruised and sore. I can honestly say, I think this is the first time I have ever actively sought and worked for change in my life.
For today's saint, change was not the tool of Satan (a belief to which I usually subscribe). Hildegard of Bingen was a nun, mystic, poet, musician, and thinker. She corresponded with bishops and kings and saints. When she saw injustice, she fought to correct it, never backing away from change, even if that change meant wrestling in words with the pope. In 1153, Hildegard wrote a letter to Pope Eugenius in which she defended an archbishop (and friend) who was under papal investigation. She didn't gild her distaste for the situation: "As it is now, however, the vile seek to wash away their vileness with their own depravity, while they themselves are deaf and polluted lying in the ditch. Lift them up; give aid to the weak." I can almost see Hildegard muttering to herself as she scribbled those words on parchment, her cheeks flushed with righteous anger. Hildegard was no fence-sitter. She was a woman unafraid of throwing herself into action, even if it meant calling Pope Eugenius an old bastard. (If you read between the lines, it's there. But saints have to be a little more diplomatic, I guess.)
So I have thrown myself into action, embraced the idea of change and movement toward something better, something hopeful. I'm not taking on the Vatican. I'm not arguing a case before the Supreme Court. I'm painting walls. I'm tearing up ugly carpeting.
And I'm hoping to find something beautiful underneath.
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