“Are my church pants clean?” Howard called to me from the bedroom. At his words I remembered him asking me last Sunday to make sure that the pants went through the laundry. This was immediately followed by remembrance of the over-flowing laundry hamper which I’d thought of doing but hadn’t gotten around to. I bounced up from my seat to go double check.
“I don’t think so.” I said, “because this week…”
Howard interrupted me. “Yes. This week.”
It was a shared moment of commiseration for a week that had not gone at all according to plan. What we thought was a simple clogged toilet transformed into a massive home renovation project requiring a jackhammer, a pending home insurance claim, and two specialized restoration companies. Most of the actual work is still pending except for the hole that has already been dug through a concrete floor and the hole in my financial plans for the year.
I fished the pants out from the bottom of the laundry hamper. They were wrinkled and musty. Not something he could just put on and feel good about. I eyed the clock, ninety minutes before church. It might be possible to rush a single pair of pants through two machines into a state of clean wearability. I ran them down to the laundry room and dumped them in with soap. It was a last minute salvage operation that echoed many of my efforts in the past few days: Can we save this flooring that I love? Can I save my budget? Can I pull myself out of the hole of mourning that I fell into which seems as big as the hole in my floor?
It seems strange to mourn a solvable problem. We have the resources to cover the costs. We have contacts at the companies who will accomplish the work. The house will be better after everything is done. The only real impact is some schedule disruption and financial cost. Yet I mourned for days. I’m still not done, not really. I think what I mourn is the as-yet-unknown opportunity costs. We were making a push to pay down debts so that we would have the financial flexibility to help out our fledgling adult children with pending expenses. We were trying to do a kitchen remodel. I was trying to create more stability in our lives so that our creative choices were less constrained by financial needs. I can’t know yet which of these things are impacted or how badly. (Though thankfully I do know that we are at no risk of going hungry or without shelter. I’m aware I’m mourning a loss of luxuries, not living in fear of loss of necessities.)
In the middle of the mourning and uncertainty I also find myself besieged with self-doubt. Surely I could have planned better or made better choices in the past so that I’d have a better financial position to manage this sort of unexpected event. We could have spent less on eating out or on impulse purchasing. My mind seems happy to scroll through memories of recent purchases while making snarky comments (or disappointed noises) about past choices. And when I sit down to write, I find myself mired in thoughts about how the effort spent will likely never be rewarded financially. I know that life is full of things that are worth spending time and money on without expectation of financial return. Yet this week it feels like everything has dollar signs slapped on it, including my time. And then there are the parenting tasks which I’m supposed to accomplish this summer to help my kids prepare to launch, which aren’t getting done.
Naturally, I respond to all this mental noise by hiding in distractions. I’ve watched a lot of Netflix this week. If the show is compelling enough it drowns out all the noise except a thin thread of “surely you have better things to do with your time.”
Holding still and hiding are normal, instinctive responses to a wound. This is as true of emotional/mental wounds as physical ones. It is an adaptive response to help us survive. We have to hold still so the pain can die down and so that the natural regenerative capabilities of the body have a chance to begin the process of healing. I actually think this is one of the functions of a depressed mind state (which I’ve had since last Tuesday.) It exists to get us to hold still long enough to heal. Of course like any other process, it can malfunction and linger far longer than is useful, particularly if we don’t recognize it as a response to a wounding and don’t do the things necessary to find and tend the wound. And of course there are some people where the response goes haywire, constantly triggering even though there has not been a wound. That is a whole different can of worms.
The salvage operations of this coming week begin with me forgiving myself for the hide-and-collapse of the past days. I need to extend to myself the same compassion that I would to others and remind my harrying thoughts that it doesn’t matter whether purchases I made in the past were wise or not. I can’t change them. All I can do is pick up from where we are now and move forward. I also need to reign in the catastrophizing lines of thought which would have me making contingency plans for all the ways that the events of last week (obviously) spell our permanent financial downfall.
The pants were clean in time for church, and for once there were enough of us there to fill an entire row. I sat there with my people and had a moment of peace. For a moment I was overcome with a feeling that everything would be okay. This is what church gives me, quiet space and a framework in which I can talk to God and get answers. I sat inside that calmness and peace as the meeting continued. Eventually it faded and my worried thoughts returned, but they weren’t as loud. And I have the memory of reassurance. Sometimes I think that is the core of faith: remembering those moments of clarity in the midst of all the other moments.
We’ll make it through, mend the holes, and continue building from there.