The three new boards on the deck are the color of honey. They are planed into barefoot smoothness and stand out against the other boards, the ones that are weathered gray and splintered in places despite my best efforts to keep them water-sealed. Even at dusk, when light and depth perception have faded, the new boards are visible, glowing like wizards’ wands.
It was the skinny heel of a pair of dress shoes that alerted me to the danger. Piercing the softened wood, the not-quite-stiletto made a puncture wound twice the size of a 10-penny nail and nearly pitched me down the steps. I caught myself and I wondered how in the world this one spot had rotted and rotted so invisibly. I did not know that there were two other boards on their way to disintegration as well.
I called the carpenter. It is what one does when something made of wood is in the need of repair. It is what one does when one recognizes the need and the futility of attempting the repair oneself.
I was not at home the day the carpenter came. I suspect that there was a great deal of noise, much heaving and hoisting and hammering, as the nails gave way and the three decaying planks yielded. Force applied to overcome resistance. All I saw was the end result. New boards. Order restored.
It is Saturday morning. I do not wake to an alarm. I wake to a breeze that is gentle and sunlight that is warm and I decide to have breakfast on the deck. As I sit down in one of the chairs that circle the table — the chairs that have sat on the deck for close to 10 years in sun and rain and, a couple of times, a dusting of snow — I feel it sink uncomfortably beneath my weight. I hear cracking and crunching as the pieces of the metal frame fall into rust-colored shards at my feet. Something else has begun wasting away without my notice.
I don’t call anyone this time. Repair is not possible; replacement is the only option. Four chairs find their way into the metal waste bin at the recycling center. Four new chairs find their way into the back of the Escape and home to Sandhill.
This has been the summer of necessary maintenance. Porch repaired and repainted. Shrubbery pruned down to nubbins. Dangling closet shelves rehung. And now the deck repaired and the chairs replaced. So much work to keep this place — this house, my home — safe and comfortable, a place of solace and consolation. I’d be a fool not to consider the possibility of a message in there somewhere. And, if not a message, then at least a suggestion, a hint, an intimation that maybe this isn’t just about the house.
But I am a fool. About many things. I am a very busy fool. Whatever the message, it will have to wait.
I stand with my hands on my hips considering placement. I move the table a little further from the rails. I push the chairs in, pull them out, make sure there is enough room. I step back to get the full effect. It is then that I realize that one of the chairs is straddling, front legs on an old board, back legs on a new.
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry or sigh or shake my head. This is no whisper, no slight nudge. This is a pronouncement, an edict, the kind of declaration that allows for no ignoring. “You will listen,” the house, the deck, the chair are all saying.
And so I stop to hear. Hear the truth that discernment is knowing the difference between what can be repaired and what must be replaced. Hear the truth that necessary maintenance is not just for houses, but for relationships and attitudes and dreams. Hear the truth that I will always be standing with one foot in the past and one in the future, straddling departures and arrivals, my arms stretched to embrace both that which is lost and that which remains.