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Living in Metaphor

Posted by Theology of Home on
Living in Metaphor

By Denise Trull

I almost didn’t decorate for autumn this year. I had the time. I still had my collection of pretty pumpkins. The air had a nip. It felt like the house was ready and waiting, but alas, I could not seem to make the short trip to the storage room where the autumn tubs awaited my usually springing step.

I had always assumed through the years that decorating for the seasons was a child based motivation for me. No matter how busy or overwhelmed I was with home schooling seven children, or if I was in the middle of a crazy tech week directing my theater’s fall production, or even if the laundry threatened to take over the whole basement floor and swallow us whole; I always took the time to decorate for each season because I knew my kids would love it and expect it like fairy dust sprinkled all over the house. They anticipated the corn cob pilgrims, the leaf garlands, each and every Christmas ornament, the Easter baskets made lovingly by their grandmama, the big butterflies hanging in the windows. And they always knew if something was missing -- like the kitchy little ghost that hung from the chandelier each Halloween and shook with boo sounds. I had to put everything out. Everything. I was amply rewarded, though. I would catch them at odd moments sitting with a smile of satisfaction as their eyes roamed the circumference of the living room taking it all in. The fairy dust had truly done its magic. The sighs were audible, and my heart swelled.

But what if all the children grow up and fly hither and yon and far from home? Is it all just merely tubs of stuff and clutter then -- without meaning? Should I just listen to the minimalists and give it all away? After all, I have a new house of sorts, having downsized to an apartment. These rooms don’t know anything about past holidays and seasons. These rooms have never met my children when they were young. They don’t remember the excitement of seasonal litter overflowing tubs, and tissue paper everywhere punctuated by oohs and ahhs and “remember this one, and this one, and this one” shouted from one child to the other over ornaments and cherished, sentimental gee-gaws. And anyway, I wouldn’t know where to put anything. These are not the same windows, or even the same corners where the Christmas tree always stood. There is no mantle for the pumpkins to nest content. It all just feels slightly off kilter. The rooms stare at me and I stare back.

“Am I out of fairy dust?” I wondered with not a small amount of sadness one quiet afternoon. And does it even matter now?

That was the day I chanced to make a random trip to my local resale shop just to wander among the shelves. It’s a happy little place, my resale shop -- you feel like you are saving pretty things from an untimely death by fluorescent lighting. There are good days and bad days at resale shops. You just have to expect that going in. But when you do find a treasure, the magic is palpable. Turns out, it was a magic day. I found these porcelain leaves hidden under a bunch of piled up Santa plates. They had possibilities, I found myself saying out loud, in spite of myself, with a fractional flutter of excitement. Definite possibilities for that specific table in the apartment, I found myself thinking. They felt like a symbol of hope. You always know you have found something amazing when the cashier weighs in with that approving nod of the head wondering what pile you had found them under and marveling at your great good luck. Thus it was that I rescued two leaf dishes from the boneyard of decor, got in my car, and made my way home.

Just two leaves with candles, mind you, but they gave me the emotional energy to salute the beauty of autumn for no other reason than that it must be hailed if you are a feeling human being at all. These leaves gave me the heart to decorate for its own sake and mine. They gave a punctuation to the day and the season. They were my apartment’s new memory in the making. They fit in its rooms and lit up its windows. It seemed...happy. I felt myself sighing in contentment. That was the day I knew that decorating was not just for my children -- not altogether. It was an expression of who I am as a human being created to discover God in the world and to show others where I had found him. It was the day that I knew I would not be at rights unless I did decorate. My things are prayers to the God who created me. I use them as tangible signs of praise and thanksgiving for what I see and feel in each season given. And when people stop by now and then, they can see and feel it as well and perhaps go away more grateful. It was a kind of revelation. Possessions can be catalysts for prayer and gratitude -- mine and others’ through me.

I remember once receiving an Indian Batik bedspread for Christmas and I just kept staring at it with pleasure. I readily admit it received more attention than an Indian Batik bedspread should warrant, but I would defend it now as a symbol of sorts. It declared that I am not a minimalist. And I am okay with that.

I lived a minimalist lifestyle for several years when I was a younger woman, and it was peaceful and freeing. I admire anyone who DOES live this way. My son and his wife are dedicated to this kind of life and I am in a front row seat eagerly watching how they will develop it. I admire them no end! But me? I have discovered that I must have my things about me. Not just any things. But things, nonetheless. I am a soul that needs metaphor. My things are metaphors -- portals, if you will, to intangible joys, meanings beyond their physical existence. "Stuff" sometimes gets a bad reputation as wrong or materialistic. I suppose it can be, but stuff -- if it has meaning -- can also surround you with the warmth of beauty, with the memory of your history, your gifts, your worth as a human being. I believe God's love works through it to me and through me to others.

Two stories from my childhood figure largely in my metaphorical decorating goals. Two rooms, to be exact. Both were surprises. Both were magical. The first room was of Uncle Alec's creation for Rose in Louisa May Alcott’s charming book Eight Cousins. Rose had lost her parents and was sent to live with her aunts. She was pale, unhealthy, and depressed. The aunts did not quite know what to do for her, until the day her Uncle Alec arrived in port. He was a sailor who had traveled all over the world. A man who had collected many exotic treasures in his trunk along the way. He had been given the care of Rose by the dying wish of his brother. Uncle Alec was filled with health and vigor and optimism. When he meets Rose for the first time, she is stuck in a morbid sadness. His first impulse is to surround her with the beauty of the world. He decorates her bedroom. Out go the heavy, upper class, New England drapes and large dark furniture with musty rugs placed there by well-meaning but dowager aunts. In come light, flowing bright curtains, shells, books on travel, all the colors of the sea. Light rugs and pretty trinkets like combs, vases and graceful statuettes. Netting from sailing ships. A Japanese fan. All things Uncle Alec had collected on his journeys. It was a room that lifted Rose out of herself with a sigh of delight. It stirred up in her a kind of optimistic courage of sorts - the realization she did not have to be stuck in sadness anymore. Beauty had been given to her as a gift. She was literally surrounded by portals that led to meaning beyond. Uncle Alec was going to help her fly and to find the light within herself again. And she did begin to find it from that point onward. It all started with a room. A decorated room.

The second room was Ram Dass's exotic creation for Sarah Crew in Frances Hodges Burnett’s A Little Princess. Ram was the Indian companion to the mysterious man next door. His room was created out of love for this poor orphan girl, who had once been wealthy but was reduced to poverty when her father was killed in the war. She has become a maid in the school she once attended as a wealthy young girl, to work off debts owed there. She has lost all her dresses, her furniture, everything. She sleeps in the attic with her fellow maid Becky. One night they fall asleep having had nothing to eat that day and suffering mightily from the cold. Sarah was close to despair. Ram Dass has pity on this little girl left alone by the war. He slips into her attic window one late night to create a magical world all about her as she sleeps. He pulls treasures from his own store of Indian decorations. Sara wakes warm under thick, flowing blankets, steps into a pair of exotic jeweled slippers, bright Indian splashes of color and fabric embroidered with animals. Heavily scented flowers surround her. A table full of delicate plates and cups filled with delectable buns, fruits, and hot tea. An oriental rug covers the floor. The ceiling draped with gauzy splendor. It was magical. It was done in love by Ram Dass -- love seeping through the portals of physical beauty. Something he had seen himself and then passed on to Sarah. She was enchanted and heartened by the magic caused by pretty things.

These stories always remind me that things are not just things. They carry so much more in them if you have the right things. Memories of love given, lovely moods experienced, poetry spoken. I have a box made by a hippie lady who inspired me to release my own hippie lady within myself. I have Arthur Rackham drawings on my walls to remind me all is not lost in art. I have William Morris designs to tell me the home is the most important thing. I have my coat of arms next to Tony's made by a dear son. I have a tea pot of Paris, my city that was everything I thought it was going to be. I have Our Lady, beautiful and calm. My things that are more than things. This exotic, lovely, batik bedspread that reminds me of Ram Dass, of Uncle Alec, of goodness, of beauty given one to another. Of being seen and heard and cared for through the years. This is why decorating is important. Some people find God in the emptiness, the minimalist atmosphere where they feel most free. I understand and admire that. But, alas, I will never be a minimalist. God speaks to me through my portals and I thank Him everyday for such a thing as metaphor.

The porcelain leaves give off an autumnal glow as I write this. They seem to whisper good things to me. God will find me in this new space where Tony and I have found ourselves. All my things will be eventually tucked here and there in the seasons to come and find their place and perhaps new meaning. The apartment will grow its own metaphors. God will speak new thoughts to me through them.

I am suddenly filled with anticipation as I descend the stairs to the storeroom where the pumpkin collection awaits. Autumn calls to me anew, and I feel what might just be a spring in my step. God is good.

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