a fairer house

Posted by on May 22, 2012

Diptych: tiny house / hose © 2011 Julia Mason Wickes.


I dwell in Possibility
A fairer house than prose,
More numerous of windows–
Superior for doors.

Of chambers as the cedars,
Impregnable of eye
And for an everlasting roof
The gambrels of the sky.

Of visitors, the fairest
For occupation, this–
The spreading wide my narrow hands
To gather paradise.

by Emily Dickinson

* * *

Jeff and I woke up in Saint Louis this morning. I am so grateful to my in-laws who came to DC yesterday to watch the girls so that we could travel here and meet with our realtor to look at houses. I was sort of dreading the drive because it was fourteen hours long, but I have to say that it has been so long since I have experienced a road trip without small children that the hours–all fourteen of them– washed past like a stream of quiet nothingness. A car with no children is a sanctuary for uninterrupted conversation, music, or just plain thought, and when you are accustomed to being deprived of those luxuries, then having them restored feels almost miraculous. We might as well have been gliding to Saint Louis in private plane through blue skies and puffy white clouds.

This morning we will meet our realtor at a bakery and then go with her to look at houses. Up until now, I have been looking and re-looking at photos of our top two possibilities online (what, I ask, did people do when they had to move long distances before the internet?!). I am not sure why I thought that when it came time to buy a house, there would somehow be gobs of choices. Maybe I thought that because there are, after all, gobs of houses in the world. But in the end, once we factored all of the variables into the equation (must be zoned for a good public school, must have a child-friendly yard, and, most importantly, must be within our price range), there really are very, very few choices. Naturally, in the past few weeks, there have been nights and mornings in which I have found my chest tightening up a little when I allow the future to sit on it like one large, hardened lump of formless clay.

I have taken to putting my hand on my heart and trying to warm it up a little in order to keep it from reaching a petrified state of anxiety about this move and all of the many, many unknown things it will mean for us. When my heart wants to freeze up with this kind of fear, the problem does not lie with all of these external variables “out there” in the world, with a public elementary school I do not know the first thing about, or the job that I do not yet have, or whether the old tile on a particular bathroom floor will be a source of vexation, or in any of this make-believe lump which I invent called future. When my heart gets constricted over these externals which, from the bed where I sleep in DC, reside more than 800 miles down the highway, I should remember the one true option available: to come back to and simply attend to my heart. At that moment that little overworked muscle needs a warm hand to oil and warm it, to save it from cramping up and hardening into a knot. It needs to come back to a state of gentleness. That– not the resolution to a dozen questions about setting up the perfect life in Saint Louis– is the true option, the only option, at that moment.

So I say: Oh Lord make hast to help me; Oh Lord come speedily to save me, or even just put my hand over my heart quietly, so that the warmth of my own hand can spread over it. All of this will keep my heart from turning to something like wood and hold it back from its impulse to travel outside of my chest and pull phantasmal strings in a remote place in time and space. Buying a house and setting up an entire life in a strange city is arguably scary but I do not want to dwell in place of rigidity or a gloomy sense that I have to wrestle down and defeat the bogey man of deprivation. My heart is really too little for that and will get pummeled in the process.

Whatever happens today as we go out to look at houses and endeavor to make a decision (which could conceivably be to delay buying a house altogether and rent something for the time being), I will try to remember that the possibility of opening my narrow hands and gathering paradise into my heart is always open.

Poetry Wednesday

  1. Michele
    May 22, 2012

    Good luck, let us know if you find something.

  2. A M B E R
    May 23, 2012

    This is one of my favorite of your diptychs, and the poem so well suited to the subject.

    I had forgotten that little prayer "O Lord make haste to help me, oh Lord make speed to save me" until I read this. How lovely those alliterated lines, and how comforting. The bring back the chapel at vespers, and Dr R, and the certain brown wood color that I associate with SVS.

    I am so happy you found a home, even it years will pass before I can come to see it!

  3. Kate
    May 24, 2012

    Best of luck with the house-hunting! I will admit to perusing the real estate listings even now that we're settled, just because it's fun (way more fun than the paperwork and logistics of actually buying one) There's nothing like peeking inside other people's houses, online or in person, to satisfy that voyeuristic urge.