Ordinary Life

You are a promise breaker

Poised Taupe
Gradually the wall colors of House Between have been changing from real-estate beige (every room was such a yawner the problem had to eventually be addressed when I found the time and, hey, the money to do it) to much more vibrant and interesting hues. We moved in almost three years ago and currently the most recent victim of my obsession has been the living room.

I happened to pick “Poised Taupe”, which is Sherwin Williams’ color of the year, for the change. Honest. I wasn’t trying to be trendy or hip, it just seemed to fit and blend especially well with the fireplace bricks and our art. And who names paint colors, anyway? I want that job.

The walls of the living room are mostly accessible to average home-owners who are fit and in the prime of life. There was just one troublesome spot that presented a tiny problem because it is practically in the stratosphere. Like maybe 25 feet into the stratosphere. Husband looked up at that spot on the wall and said I want you to promise me you won’t get the ladder and climb up there. He doesn’t like heights and besides his knees hurt pretty much all the time, so he couldn’t do it, but he sure didn’t want me to do it either. I solemnly replied, I promise. I won’t.

Bit by bit I worked on sections. Painting is so satisfying. There isn’t a lot in life that not only has closure, but there in front of you, as you paint, you have evidence that what you are doing actually has the intended results. That alone might be beautiful enough to satisfy the soul and the eye. Writing is never like that. At least not for me. Writing, even a simple email, is revise, revise, revise. Social media’s never ending chains of cute puppies and perfect babies and the universe of edible deliciousness that everyone but me is making and eating can lead to such a state of despair I want to stab out my eyes and never write or post a single word again.

So, quietly, section by section, the living room has become Poised Taupe.

You are not a promise keeper
When it came to the tiny problem, I honestly tried to think of various ways to solve it and not break my promise. We couldn’t possibly HIRE someone to do that little area – that would be too inefficient. I didn’t want to endanger friends either. The conclusion finally forced itself on me: I had to go back on my word. I would have to do it myself.

A Friend carried in our tall aluminum construction ladder and leaned it up against the wall. I didn’t want Friend to risk climbing up herself since high-climbing for this otherwise perfect person, makes her a little dizzy, and she knew she couldn’t stop me anyway, stubborn as I am.

Furtively, I crept to the top hoping Husband who was in the next room at his desk would be so immersed he wouldn’t ever even know what I was up to, and I quickly cut in that peak area. Everything went perfectly well, until I reached the bottom, backed up off the last rung and fell over half a gallon of paint. That’s when Husband’s face appeared over mine.

Now the good thing about Sherwin Williams is that their paint is about the consistency of vanilla pudding and it stayed on the paint cloth while Friend and I scooped most of it back into the can with only a bit of paint clinging to my black flats. (Who wears their good black flats to paint in, anyway? There’s all kinds of wrong with me.) The next very bad thing was there was no way to deny what I had done. I couldn’t even lie or act innocent about how that part of the wall got done, or who could have possibly done it.

Theologically there is a problem here, at least on my part. Lying, for starters? My pastor quibbles with me saying it wasn’t lying, but breaking a promise which is different. Whatever. I like pleasing people too much and will often agree to something I really shouldn’t because if pressed, I might (will?) break my promise just as I have here. So to call it sin is probably accurate. I was truly sorry for scaring Denis. Later he told me in accusatory tones, you have no idea how frightening that was. By the way, if you’ve never experienced this let me warn you, most guys who are frightened and alarmed get mad. So he was mad for awhile. Really mad.

I concede; the risks I’m tempted to take at my age are probably foolish and may end up harming me. Apparently the height of the ceiling isn’t the only place with a difficult reach for me, so are certain kinds of wisdom and I’m not there yet. Still, I have hope that some day I’ll reach a better place than where I am now. (Though given my age, it better happen fast.) It was also wrong to break my word. I’m sorry for it. The best I can offer at the moment is that I better not make a promise unless I plan to keep it.

Sustaining the Marriage
In Ann Patchett’s book The Story of a Happy Marriage, ¬she writes about what it takes to sustain a marriage. (The same can be said of friendships, I believe. So I’m not just talking about married folks.)

There are always those perfect times with the people we love, those moments of joy and equality that sustain us later on. I am living that time with my husband now. I try to study our happiness so that I will be able to remember it in the future, just in case something happens and we find ourselves in need. These moments are the foundation upon which we build the house that will shelter us into our final years, so that when love calls out, “How far would you go for me?” you can look it in the eye and say truthfully, “Farther than you would ever have thought was possible.” (P 224)

Her words reveal a wisdom that is very refreshing to hear, partly because they are said without the typical cynicism and self-indulgent concerns which often characterize the relationships of our age. But what about those other moments? What will sustain you or me through all those times when life is far from perfect, rife with disappointments and difficulties and, as in my case, the broken promises, that shape our history? Not only must I wrestle with my partner’s flaws, but I must own up to my own. In looking at any part of myself, I am dismayed. My shortage of wisdom. My body. My hooded eyes and wrinkled cleavage. My mind of forgetfulness – more and more often I need to retrace my steps to figure out where I was headed and what I planned to do once I got there. These are the trickier parts of life we must navigate in long term relationships.

What melts my heart is Patchett’s reference to the shelter we need and hope to find during in our final years. It touches me because I want it so dearly. So as I study the times of happiness and difficulties Husband and I have had together, I am acutely aware of the need for extended grace and love on both our parts, the kind that goes beyond the physical and mental and into a much deeper realm. They are, indeed, gifts to the soul. This coupled with a whole lot of forgiveness will be the shelter we need to make it to the end.

All this aside, I must admit I do love “Poised Taupe.” It looks great on our walls.