Op/Ed

Lessons in listening: Appreciating unexpected gifts

None of us would have chosen the circumstances of our current global state of affairs, but here we are and wish as we might there is no other place to be.

The peeling paint on the exterior of my house first caught my eye three years ago. As a first time homeowner my DIY skill set was dismal and I anticipated a hefty cost to hire a professional. Luckily, for the time being, the flakes were falling in fairly obscured sections and I could easily gaze elsewhere with unfettered regard. Avoidance has its advantages in the short-term and I thoroughly enjoyed my time and money spent elsewhere in the interim. 
But alas, even the best implemented avoidance strategy has an endpoint. 2020 arrived and among countless upheavals, the required “stay at home” order provided me ample time to acknowledge the plethora of exposed clapboards. This in combination with the canceled summer adventures created the unfortunate environment for a summer of work. I will own every ounce of my obstinacy. I did not want to paint my house. Quite frankly, it felt like too much work added on top of an already overfilled life. As my inner adolescent of the 1980s reran the beginning montage of “The Karate Kid,” I concurred that this was most certainly going to be a cruel summer. 
Thankfully, my training as a health coach reminded me, as I often remind others, to start exactly where I was. This meant making room for what I was feeling. I grumbled. Then I complained. I believe I may have even stomped around a bit on the first day of scraping. Interestingly, though, once I gave myself full permission to accept both my inner and external reality, I started to notice the experience in front of me, without judgment. 
I noticed that the paint wasn’t affixed equally on all surfaces. I noticed that various sized scrapers and putty knives were required for different angles. I noticed the burn in my shoulders and back after hours of repetitive movement. I noticed my trepidation on a ladder. I noticed the soft and bare layer of wood against my tools and began to learn how to apply just the necessary pressure so as not to gorge the wood. In theory I had always known I lived in a wooden house, but this was the first occasion in which I gave my attention to the details of the texture, color and grain. I was becoming fully acquainted with my home for the first time, despite 12 years of residence.
Curiously, this dreaded chore has opened me to my neighborhood as well. A neighbor with a handsomely painted house obliged me with a curbside consultation on color choices, and tipped me off to the best primer in town to boot. I had not just one pressure washer to blast my old paint to the heavens, I had three on my doorstep. A casual question regarding the efficiency of a paint sprayer to one neighbor put an old one in my possession. Thereafter, an observation of my failed attempts to use it prompted yet another neighbor to take it home and fix it up for proper use. Equally as appreciated has been the simple endorsement from an unknown neighbor walking their dog by our work zone. The phrase “It takes a village” couldn’t be closer to home right now.
So, there you have it, the unexpected gifts of adversity. None of us would have chosen the circumstances of our current global state of affairs, but here we are and wish as we might there is no other place to be. In one conversation with a client this week, she half-jested, “It sure is hard being a human.” To that I say a big Amen. Being human means that we experience loss and death. It also means we get to be fully alive if we chose to be, with all our vulnerability and authenticity. In that sense, it sure is beautiful being a human. 
I leave you with a quote from one of my revered spiritual guides, Pema Chodron: “Day after day, you start where you are. And that is a good place to be.”
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Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Health Coach at her practice, Village Health. Learn more about Village Health at villagehealthvt.com.

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