A House Apart

I walk past dozens of homes in my leafy neighborhood on my way to work or to the corner store. My mind on other things, I notice, admire and immediately forget their many pretty porches, flower gardens and lawn furniture. I don’t often pick up on subtle changes. So, it took me a while to notice one house that had fallen into disrepair and what was happening to it.

At some point, this little one-and-a-half story cape cod started looking scraggly, the crab-grass lawn neglected. I am not sure whether that was before or after it changed owners. For a period of time it was boarded up. Then one day giant trash containers appeared in the driveway. Bit by bit, the innards of the house were removed and the dumpsters filled to the brim. Then the roof was taken away as well as the sheetrock of the interior walls and the supporting beams. After a period of weeks, all that was left was a white brick exterior, which was really red brick painted white, and the chimney. A tall shady tree overlooked these bare bones of what was probably once an active home full of family life. That house on the corner is getting torn down, I thought, observing its pitiful shell.

But that didn’t seem right. I looked again. I noticed slender t-shaped wooden braces supporting the brick in several spots around the exterior. And the layers of paint had been scraped off in a small area by the side door, as if someone had been inspecting the red brick underneath or considering whether to keep the white coat. It dawned on me, this house isn’t getting torn down. It’s getting rebuilt.

I looked at the same empty shell now and I saw it differently. Not so pitiful anymore, this was the beginning of somebody’s exciting new chapter.

Sure enough, fresh lumber was soon delivered to the lawn. The yard filled up with two-by-fours, plywood and stacks of trusses for a new peaked roof.

This scene made me think of the times when we choose to dismantle our life or something happens to dismantle it for us. Many of us have experienced this scary moment of being laid bare — through a career change, a divorce, a health battle or a major decision to start over. I think of when I moved my family to the DC area a few years ago with a newly-minted master’s degree and no job. We owned barely enough to fill half of a cube truck, rode into town on fumes. There wasn’t much left to stand on but our family’s deepest foundation, the outer facade I presented to the world propped up by the slimmest of braces. At a moment like that, just as quickly, you might realize that this seemingly fragile state is actually a sturdy beginning, that you are about to be rebuilt.

The next few times I saw the house, the wood deliveries on the lawn were moving in, gradually becoming a part of a growing home. I saw the frames of the walls going up and a skin of green plywood reinforcing their shape.

And then I saw something more. The new structure is not limited by the boundaries of the old roofline it shed. This house is not just coming back, it’s rising, and will stand a story taller than its former self.

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