“I remember you like the spicy food”, Juan, the painter, said proudly as he asked to use my downstairs bathroom. Juan was a truly nice guy, but his English was still a little on the broken side. Lord knows it was better than my truly-busted Spanish.
Juan’s mention of my fondness for chilies was, I knew, his way of reaching out to me, bridging the language divide enough that we both felt good about his decision to ask to use my bathroom.
I don’t think Juan realized that while he’s been here working on this particular paint job, updating my daughter’s one bedroom wall from her toddler pink to her very-specific tweener purple, that he’s been mere feet away from my growing crisis of faith. Even if he knew, I bet he’d be relieved that our respective language limitations safely precluded a dive that deep into one another’s lives.
Have you ever painted anything? I mean a real multi-hour job kind of painting, like a room, a table or a canvas? Like most tasks in life that you don’t routinely tackle, painting starts with those first tentative strokes, those first anxious moments of a beginning. Did I get the right brush? Is the paint the right color and type? Did I tape the edges so it doesn’t look like I had a seizure every couple of inches? It’s one of two moments of truth in any endeavor. It’s The Beginning.
I’ve often needed to remind myself that courage can be defined as ‘being afraid, but going anyway’. And you need a little courage to start a paint job, because it always opens up some part of your personal box of fears and insecurities. But you know you have a job to do, and you get on with it. Courage. Belief. Hope.
Then a great thing happens. You start to get into the groove swing of the painting. Strokes become more sure and even. Rhythmic. You take less paint from the container and drip less on your pant leg, and find less of it smeared on the sides of your fingers. You start to think of other things. In fact, you think of anything other than painting most of the time…this middle time. You drift into that other place.
To me, it’s like swimming under the surface of the ocean. You go as deep as you feel like going, only occasionally surfacing for a breath of air. Or in the case of the painting, you come back into the here-and-now, and make the required observations and adjustments to your progress. And then you go back under again. Focus. Lack of focus. Here. Not here. Linear. Parallel.
Before you know it, you’ve come to the end, and as with all endings, the other moment of truth arrives. The Ending. How did it go? How does it look? Was it worth the effort? It takes a different kind of courage to face an ending; an even worse kind. For it’s far scarier to end something than to start it, and even more terrifying to evaluate your own ending. Courage. Belief. Hope.