Monday, March 28, 2011

Chaos Theory Revisited

"In hard times we think that no good thing
can happen out of all the difficulty.
Then, imperceptibly at first,
some good makes a small beginning."
Pat Livingston
Lessons from the Heart

If I could get to it - if I could even find it - I'd pull out my well-read copy of Pat Livingston's Bless this Mess to remind myself that there is a theory that in order for something to be born, there must be chaos first. I'd remind myself that what I see around me, piles upon piles upon piles of stuff, is really just the start of making an old home new; of making the house where my parents spent 49 years of their lives a place of new beginnings for Sweetie and I.

Of course, if I were to find the book, I'd have to stop crying long enough to be able to see the pages clearly. And I'd have to find a chair that didn't have 14 boxes teetering on top of it like the leaning tower of Pisa so I could sit. And I'd have to find a quiet place without hammers banging nail strips into beautiful but in need of some TLC parquet floors that are about to be covered by new carpet. I guess I'll have to come up with my own chaos theory. Or just hope for the best.

I know things are going to get better. The walls that have been painted look and feel and smell clean. The bathroom that Johnson is re-doing may not be so clean that you can eat off the floor but it is bright and shiny and begs for a new toilet and vanity to complete the look. It's amazing what some Spackle, sandpaper, paint, Clorox and elbow grease can accomplish.

I look around at the mess and see potential. I also see what used to be. I feel excited and sad at the same time. I want to move forward but I keep looking back over my shoulder for what was. Talk about chaos. My mind is awhir with emotion.

Six years ago when Sweetie and I moved in with Dad, we tried to set some ground rules. We didn't want to be guests in Dad's house. We hoped to make it a home for 3 all of us. At the time it sounded like a grand plan. I can see now that it was really just wishful thinking. How could we have expected someone who wanted to stay in his "own" surroundings until he died (rather than go to a "home"), who was a retired military officer who never gave up giving orders and expecting them to be saluted and completed with a crisp, "Aye, Aye, Sir," who was the Lord of his own manor to acquiesce any more control and space than he did and still keep his hold of the life that his house represented. We lived with a constant butting of heads. Sweetie was more diplomatic (most of the time) than Dad but they often went at each other like those rutting territorial rams you see on nature shows. The kind that run at each other and butt their giant horned heads together until the other was knocked unconscious or gave up. I threw my own tantrums to try to get my own way (which, I think I thought was a way for all of us. I was after all feathering the nest for 3.)

Maybe it was all about ownership. But maybe it was something more than that. Maybe Dad just didn't have the energy (or desire) to see his surroundings thrown into this state of chaos. When I considered laying new carpet, I thought about how pretty it would look, and how the pile would feel under bare feet. I gave no thought to moving every piece of furniture that had been emptied of every picture, plate, sweater or book. I didn't think about how hard it was going to be or what a gigantic mess it was going to make. I think my father knew (as fathers do) what I was missing. And I think he just wasn't up to the challenge of the work or the letting go. Old, dirty, smelly dog-enhanced carpet was, after all, what he was used to. And getting rid of that, in a way, was getting rid of lots more than just dirt. Yeh, sure, he'd have had memories of my mother vacuuming before a dinner party, of cats puking, of mud-covered dogs rolling on their backs, or grandbabies learning to crawl. Memories are great. But they aren't tangible. You can't hold on to them or look at them when your brain begins to lose it's hold on things that happened in the near past.

For Sweetie and I new carpet, or moving the dining room around, or changing paint color was freshening up. For Dad, I believe now, it was too much change. He didn't want to let go of the last vestiges of the life he knew. To us it seemed like he was being stubborn, or mean (and granted there was some of that). Now I think (and regret that I didn't understand) he was holding on tight with both hands not to control "us" but "his" time and memories.

So it is with both sadness and delight that I watch 2 men crawl around on the floor tacking down new carpet. I can already see a change in the brightness of the room. (I can already see where we're going to have to paint!) But my tears fall as I think about the man who left me this big house with all its headaches and all its memories. I am grateful for the gift. I hope I'm up to the challenge of making it a home for a bunch more years.

If a journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step, perhaps the making of a new home begins with a newly carpeted but firm foundation. I think we've got the best of both worlds. Geez, that makes me cry too. Where did we put the Kleenex?

Wishing for you a little old mixed with a little new,
Merry ME


Molly said...

i read this and completely understand. when i go home the house i grew up in has been demolished to make room to build more college apartments. it's easy to get melancholy. but the important things i carry with me.

seraph said...

Transitions are always a challenge! Jesus said the wise gal knows how to keep in her treasure box both the old and new! May you be blessed in the process of making dad's house your very own!

AkasaWolfSong said...

I had to quick grab my box of kleenex too, as I remember the day you described your Dad sitting at the end of the driveway looking back at his home and you trying to glean what he was doing/thinking. It must be a big step for those making the end of life transition to relinquish what they hold so dear.
Not to minimize what you are going through at all Mary...I can totally feel you through your words and they just bring me to my knees (in prayer and blessing) as I realize one day we all will be faced with this transition and how we will interact with our loved ones.
Been thinking of you quite heavily the past few days again and just wanted to stop by and share my love and hugs with you!