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“L” is for Lowe

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Dear family and friends,

I have tried to avoid the blogging phenomenon because I fear biting off more than I can chew — I who enjoy and relish and seek out challenges, only to discard them as soon as they become just another part of everyday life.

But sometimes things happen that seem just extraordinary enough that I think, “Someone might like to hear this,” so I turn to email — the great equalizer. Please delete if you don’t think it’s worth your time, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. It’s just a thought, and I wanted to include you.

A few months ago I watched “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” at the recommendation of a friend who knows a lot more about film than I do. I have never tried to watch a “horror” movie on purpose before (although I have been tricked into it once or twice) and could hardly keep my eyes open for fright: I eventually stopped counting the number of times a character walked down a long, unlit hallway while sinister music and strange noises swelled in the background.

The movie, while not without flaws, touched me because of its honest and direct portrayal of a woman struggling with the largest question of all — is life more than a series of sensory stimuli, or am I all on my own out here? – and what the implications of a true or false, on either side, might be. At one point, she describes a strange occurrence: walking home in the snow, she finds a locket on the ground, engraved with her exact initials. Many people might call this a coincidence, but her conclusion is otherwise: “I felt as if it were a sign that, somehow, I was on the right path.”

Every once in awhile, you get a sign like that.

Last weekend, Rob and I continued our ongoing project of tearing up the carpet and refinishing the hardwood floors underneath. The whole thing had to be carefully orchestrated, as a 24-hour drying period is required between coats of stain and varnish, our little house requires us to squeeze the contents of one room into another while we work, and everything needs to be back to normal by Monday afternoon when my piano students arrive.

Thursday, all day, I worked on moving the dining room. I emptied the bookshelves, cleared the dishes out of the china cabinet, removed pictures from the walls, and stacked everything carefully in the study, with just enough room to make it to the couch and computer station at the far end of the room. When Rob got home, around 8 PM, we moved the heavier pieces of furniture into the living room. Just as he began pulling up the brass thresholds and prying the carpet off its tacks, my mom called. As I chatted with her, I watched him peel back the padding, waiting for the magical moment when the wood throws its warmth into the room. Instead, I saw wood with a 5-inch beam inserted in the middle where there was a hole cut out. Instinctively I averted my eyes, willing it to go away when I looked back, but there was no such luck. I hung up the phone and stared. “What is that?”

Rob pulled back another couple of feet of carpet, revealing an elbow-shaped missing piece. Pine boards had been placed on top of the joists to make the floor level even. “I know what it is,” Rob said. “This room used to be a bedroom, right?” The upstairs, which is our bedroom now, was an attic that the previous owner refinished. “There was no doorway here,” between the dining room and kitchen. “This was a wall, and where you’re standing would have been a closet.” As soon as he said it, I realized the architect was right. “A closet,” I repeated flatly. Rob shrugged. “Guess we’ll put a rug there.”

We soon settled to the task of sanding and scraping. The crew that had painted our house to sell it had obviously counted on putting down carpet, and hadn’t bothered with any drop cloths: spatters and smears of paint covered the floor, and it was liberating to free the worn boards of their grime. As I straightened my back for a momentary rest, I glanced at the eyesore, and sitting inside the room, had a revelation: the shape formed an L. L for Lowe! That had to mean something. “We should decorate it,” I said. “If we try to patch it, it’ll look patched. We should make it look like we meant it to be there.”

Rob looked doubtful. “Decorate it?”

“Not with hearts and flowers,” I said. “Paint a border, or something. Fill it in.”

Rob glanced behind him. “Use some of those wine corks you’re always saving,” he said, with a characteristic eyeroll. I am the unfortunate inheritor of both my father’s penchant for saving useless things and my mother’s exaggerated sense of sentimental value, and have been storing the corks of bottles of wine we’ve drunk together since we were first dating. I keep them in glass jars that once held artichoke hearts or cranberry chutney and were also too pretty to throw away.

“Hey, throw me one of those jars,” I said. “I wasn’t serious,” he countered. “I know,” I said. “I just want to see how it looks.”

I started putting them into the space in the same pattern as the trivets we’d made for Christmas presents a couple of years ago: two horizontal, two vertical, alternating with each row. Actually, they looked pretty good there. They also fit in exactly three rows in each direction.

I kept lining them up. “Open another one.” Rob watched and opened jar after jar as I went through them, discarding the ugly plastic ones and the mushroom—shaped champagne corks that wouldn’t fit.

“Do you think we’ll have enough?” I wondered. “Yeah, here’s one more jar,” he said.

I had exactly the right number. Exactly! Except for one empty space. I stared. There is a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will: all the times I had slipped a cork into my purse at a restaurant while Rob rolled his eyes, or tossed one into a jar as I prepared dinner – every one had been accounted for up to this moment. How is it possible that God pays attention to something as small as that?

We opened one more bottle, placed the cork in the hole, and sat down on the paint-speckled floor, studying the L. Our many weekends in Williamsburg with friends, dinners at the taverns and stolen walks down the cobblestone streets (why pay for admission?) The amazingly cheap, amazingly good Chianti we drank in Ocean City. Our trip to Sonoma a few summers ago; Matanzas Creek, the name that conjures up the deafening hum from thousands of bees delirious from hours in the hot sun, afloat above tufts of lavender. A bottle I brought back from Turkey, and several from friends who made trips to France. The winery we discovered by accident driving through the city of Prince Edward in Canada, where the owner reopened the store just for us. Lots and lots of our favorite Chilean and Italian standbys, the stuff that’s okay to open on a Tuesday night when your students have given you a hard day.

Can you believe it? Exactly enough. It was my sign that I was somehow on the right path – trying to make my home and my life more beautiful; trying to hold on to physical reminders of people and moments I hold dear; trying to do each dumb little task placed before me to the best of my ability, come what may.

I miss you all and pray for you.

Love,
Emily

Photo: Cross Reflection - Sedona, May 2005

Copyright © 2009 Emily Jorjorian Lowe. All rights reserved.

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