Sometimes I get an idea in my head and it’s hard to let go. And I’m not sure whether it’s me or the idea itself that refuses to part ways.
This time it’s the duplex next door. For nine months now, I’ve thought of calling the owner to offer free landscaping services for his front yard. What stops me in my tracks is the owner himself. He’s a kind soul that doesn’t deserve such intrusion into his life by this unneighborly neighbor who has such big dreams for his property.
Yet. The idea refuses to go away. So this past month, I’ve explored the possibility with my spiritual director. And then I casually mentioned it to a neighbor I ran into while walking my new dog through Mesta Park. And yesterday, during a lull at the County Extension ‘hope desk’, I spoke to some fellow master gardeners about my designs on the duplex. All have encouraged me to go talk to the owner. But so far, I’ve talked to everybody but the one person I should be talking to.
And meanwhile, I talk myself out of calling him. I simply don’t know how and where to begin. Just how do I explain my motivations to the owner when I don’t even understand them myself? God knows I’ve tried to get underneath this desire to do this. And when I examine the facts in my mind, it doesn’t make a bit of sense. I find that this particular duplex is not the ugliest property on the block. And while landscaping would certaintly increase our entire block’s property value, and most certainly the duplex’s own, it’s not the money that entices my interest. Instead, as best as I can tell, it’s a simple matter of the heart — it seems to be all about the chance to create a little beauty where beauty is sorely lacking.
In her book Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill explains how our hunger for the divine is mediated through the experience of beauty. She writes,
“We know not why “great” poetry should move us to unspeakable emotion, or a stream of notes, arranged in a peculiar sequence, catch us up to heightened levels of vitality: nor can we guess how a passionate admiration for that which we call “best” in art or letters can possibly contribute to the physical evolution of the race. In spite of many lengthy disquisitions on Esthetics, Beauty’s secret is still her own. A shadowy companion, half seen, half guessed at, she keeps step with the upward march of life: and we receive her message and respond to it, not because we understand it but because we must.”
I know this indescribable feeling of “must”. Like my mother, I want to waltz through life making silk purses out of sow ears. I am drawn to create beauty–and I define beauty broadly, as some of my efforts served to simplify only what others regarded as complex–with little regard for time or money. I’m one who can ponder something for months… then with no earthly provocation…I dive in without warning and up to my eyeballs, I float on hope until I figure out how to swim.
That’s sort of how it happened with my last Cinderalla story, with the duplex that sits across the street from my house. A year ago I reported the property to city control for having foot high weeds. Then the owner came, and finding her kind, I decided to offer free help. And in spite of all the long hard work, what I recall most is the pure joy of creating a little beauty with God. But even now, I blush at the memory of my boldness, as I offered my opinions left and right on what her duplex needed, even going so far as to suggest new paint colors and offering to do some of the painting for free, so she could decide if she’d liked it. Amazingly, rather than sending me packing, she thanked me for all my ideas and all my help. And I’m still helping. These photos of ‘before’ and ‘after’ show what a little love can do.
So I’m wondering. Do I really believe in the truth of this fairy tale? Because if I truly believed, wouldn’t I be calling the owner of the ugly stepsister next door? I’m no fairy godmother and I know it. Fairy godmothers always pop in just when their services are most needed. And while I may think my services are more than needed, I’m not sure the duplex owner will feel the same.
No, I’m more like the fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread. The question becomes: Must I?