On Sunday, Isaac and I helped a friend paint a room in her house.
It sounds like the setup for a joke: what happens when you give a seven-year-old a paint roller and let him have at it? But actually, he did a remarkably good job, covering much of a wall as high as he could reach, with only a couple of minor incidents, easily fixed, of paint on trim.
In short, he’s a better house painter than me.
We were painting because, well, who doesn’t love painting? With seven-year-olds? But really, we were painting because the friend in question is travelling through some big changes. Those changes are her story to tell, but the short version is that she is reclaiming space, painting over grey with the brightest, most springlike shade of green imaginable, willing herself (or free-falling, depending on the hour) into the new season it symbolizes. Isaac painted, I took photos, another friend filled in the parts of the walls that Isaac was too short to reach, and my friend DJed. Songs like “Walking on Sunshine.”
And when we were done the first coat, we went downstairs and rolled coins. Obviously.
I could roll coins for days. It suits my compulsion to organize, to use things up — all the bits and scraps left over from other transactions, other expenditures, pulled together into tidy tubes, traded in for something larger. It’s the same principle that attracts me to quilting, to throwing together magical dinners from what’s left in the cupboard. The grown-ups cracked open post-painting beers, and Isaac and I hunkered down on the floor with loonies and quarters and now-defunct pennies, sorting and counting and sliding tidy piles of coins into paper wrappers. And one day, those coins will get taken to the bank and traded in and, eventually, traded up — my friend is dreaming about a kayak, moving fast and light and quiet over Lake Superior waters.
All that loose change, scrounged from the street and pulled from pockets and thrown into jars over how many years? You don’t know the weight of all the things left over until you, as we did yesterday, gather it all and sort it out and measure it. So many small moments, now forgotten, that make up a life. And that life can change — forgive me — on a dime.
Some changes are easier to embrace than others. Sometimes you trade in something that seemed whole for what seems like less, and broken. Sometimes, you look at your life scattered in parts around you, and don’t even know where to begin to make order of it all. Some days, all those pieces weigh down your pockets, make it hard to get up off the couch. And some days, in front of a movie or two, or with the right music, and the right colour of paint, and the optimism of a seven-year-old, and a friend or two with compulsive tendencies, you gather some of those parts into a new kind of whole, that much more valuable for having been split apart in the first place.