We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.T.S. Eliot
Two weeks ago a friend and client arrived at our house and remarked what a picturesque little house we have. I was surprised, because I find it impossible not to compare my small surroundings with the more lavish ones of many of our clients (this one, for instance). But it is where we live and work, and mess up, and then clean again as fast as we can before company arrives, because the small spaces do double duty for living and working on projects.
She returned the other day to pick up a fine decor piece she had sent over for repairs, but this time she brought another person to inspect the work. She kept remarking how much she loved our house, and her companion praised the workmanship of the repair to her piece. Normally, I would modestly dismiss her words as mere kindness, but it was obvious how sincere she was. I have never been secure about the presentation of my surroundings, for a number of reasons that haunt me from my past.
To say the least, it was extremely gratifying to know that the work we had put into our home over some years, decluttering and engineering storage spaces, had paid off. Apparently getting rid of our area rugs hadn’t diminished the beauty of our home one whit. I must admit, too, that I used to fantasize about living like people did in the old days, over their shops and the like. We are about as close as it’s possible to get to that dream in the present age. So why do I worry that others will find us too plebeian or something? Perhaps it surprises me that they still accept us because I live in a less class-conscious part of the country than the one I grew up in.
Our wonderland house
That evening I walked around the house, looking at all the incredible things we still have. It’s a jewel box of a place, in some ways, filled with books, some old and some new, plus odds and ends that speak of “long ago and far away.” I forget to “see” it sometimes, living inwardly as I too often do.
In the living room is the old, broken cuckoo clock from my husband’s side. Should we fix it or should we leave the brokenness as part of its history? And then there is the brass samovar that was a gift from a client who passed. A bright teal Chinese ginger jar graces our mantel (it was broken in pieces once and repaired perfectly, but that is the wabi sabi of it). A silly stuffed cat on a nook shelf stares out at the brass censer that came from a church somewhere and now hangs over my desk. Why do I forget how much I love this wonderland? Why do I think others will find it shabby instead of quaint?
A Storybook Life
Suddenly, as I was gazing upon our spaces, it was as if I saw my whole life opened like a storybook with all the painful parts gone, and only two things remained: my mother and myself. I had to focus a bit for a clearer picture. I saw myself as a child and my mother teaching me to cut valentines from paper, singing duets with me as she got dressed in the morning, making picnic sandwiches for my little brother while our big brother was at school. She made us feel so special that day.
Then I considered my life after that point, remembering certain things I had become attached to for no apparent reason. A windmill in a picture on our wall, water stains on the ceiling paper that looked like faces peeking over the side of a big cloud. It was like the “great cloud of witnesses” looking down from heaven when I went down for a nap. These weren’t at all the things I would have mentioned had someone asked me the story of my life.
But then I saw something else—anguish, the sadness that crept in later and wrecked everything. In fact, for the entire rest of my life I could scarcely remember having loved anything without sensing the flavor, the taint of everything that had soured my life. It should have been as simple as holding onto the good and throwing out the bad. But, honestly, it was like scrubbing something clean and still smelling a foul odor.
For a brief moment, every foul memory went away and I was left with only the storybook part. I can’t say it was literally the voice of the Almighty speaking to me that evening, or just something I intuited. How shall I put it except to say that I believe in spiritual good, but I also believe in spiritual evil. I believe we were created for good, yet we are also assaulted by evil. For a moment, the evil was completely removed and I witnessed the good without the foul odor. I saw the gifts God had actually put in my life and what was evil had no part in them.
I saw that God had put two main gifts in my life. Something spoke to me just then: “Your mother was the first gift I gave you. She taught you to love goodness and innocence. She was the right person to form you when you were a child. The second thing—you have lived a precarious existence most of your life, but do you see the things in your home? You were always an explorer, unlike your mother. This is the person you are, and this quality is also my gift to you. This is how you greet the world. No matter what befalls you in life, you will always carry wonderment in your heart and spread it to others. Even though you cannot hang onto much permanence, others find solace in the wonderment that characterizes everything you touch.”
“Embrace these two gifts. This is who you really are, who you were meant to be, and they are the tools that have carried through your life in good times and in bad. They are your real riches. The evil part was sent against you, sent to destroy all that I have laid out for you. But it is not you. Do not accept the miasma of its pollution, for it is false.”
Now that was a freeing thought. I toured my own house after that, trying to hang onto the moment. For a split second, I experienced the riddance of every negative influence on earth. That’s when I saw clearly: Evil is an interloper, not the definer of our lives.
I had come to the end of my explorations, back to the beginning of my life, and suddenly I knew the place for the first time. I knew myself in a new way; I knew my mother for the first time, too—why she was the perfect mother to shape me then, and why it was okay that we diverged in some definite ways later. No wonder Eliot’s quote spoke so much to me. I had come across it rather frequently in my readings of late. Was it the cause of a surprising new beginning or the result? I don’t know myself, but time will tell.