Monday, September 12, 2011

Steps in the Abstract, Steps in Reality

First steps, take the steps, three steps, do the two-step, the ubiquitous twelve steps—all get us where we need—or want—to be.
No steps—counting, working, taking, dancing—mean anything in the abstract because a step is not abstract; a step is tangible. To do, accomplish, or be anything, it’s putting a foot onto that first step and taking action—concrete action—that moves us forward and into and along any journey upon which we embark.

Basement steps take us into (and out of) what often are dark, damp places. Few windows in these underground areas bring light, but even if present, they rarely dispel the reality that when in the basement, you are underground. Steps take you back to the surface.
To persuade someone to rent my Massachusetts house, the basement had to be addressed. “Basement: You have dark blue walls, you smell bad, and although your tile floor is relatively new, twenty-three-year-old carpet is stapled to your stairs. You are getting a makeover.”
It took two weeks to paint said walls Beach White (Behr paints, Home Desperate) to bring light into the room. My son tackled the vile chore of removing the carpet and padding from the stairs. Twenty-plus years of footsteps pounded the carpet staples into the wood stairs, so it took the two of us several hours to pry them out.

I spent half of forever prepping the stairs to paint them: vacuum stairs, wash stairs, wait for stairs to dry, pry out staples we missed, fill the 10,000+ staple holes in stairs, wait for spackling to dry, sand spackling, vacuum again.
Aside from the stairs, life went on: Ten days after saying yes to renting the house, the prospective tenant bailed. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irene blasted past Florida, easing my mind about my home in Vero Beach, until said hurricane set her sights on New England.
I had no renter, I was running out of money (actually, I ran out of money three years earlier when I thought I could support two households), running out of time, and running out of energy, and really wanting to run from the approaching storm, but I still had to paint the steps. Facing those unpainted stairs—and everything else—was daunting. I couldn’t conjure a renter, I couldn’t increase my bank balance, I couldn’t add more time to the twenty-four-hour daily allotment, and I couldn’t run from the storm.
I couldn’t change a thing about my life, but the steps were prepped and ready to paint. All I had to do was open the can of paint, pick up the brush, and paint.

Overused, misused metaphors aside, I could paint only one step at a time and only then could I move to the next step. I could paint the steps. I did paint the steps.
No tenant materialized the day I painted the steps. No money magically entered my bank account. The day still had only twenty-four hours, which I used well. Irene came and went, and we weren’t harmed.

I painted the steps—each one, one at a time. Sometimes that is all any of us can do when faced with overwhelming thoughts, fears, money and time problems, never-ending to-do lists, and impending storms.
Paint the Steps.

The house is rented and I have returned to Florida.

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