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31 January 2023


Written by
Jennifer Garvey Berger

What does one do after one has bought an old French domain with a dozen friends? One renovates. Which we are doing. We knew on our first tour of the house that we would want to renovate it. The house was in remarkable condition; it had been well cared for by the family who had owned it for nearly the last quarter century. But before that family there had been a renovation that did some violence to the house and we wanted to restore it, to open up a wall that used to lead to the common areas. To restore the heart of the old part of the house. To create community space for our intentional community.

There were endless visits with the architects. Endless conversations with one another. And finally, plans drawn, bids made, and work begun.

I have been spinning metaphors.

Because isn’t this often the case? There is some early violence to our spirits—a difficult relationship with a parent, a schoolyard bully, a cruel teacher. And we wall ourselves up and then forget there was ever another passageway, forget that our heart was ever open and exposed. It takes something new for us to notice the harm that was done, the way we wish to be different.

They came with jackhammers and diggers. They cut the power and the water, and we all had to move out of the house. They broke up the tile floor and under it the concrete slab and dug into earth that hadn’t been exposed for centuries.

And then something happens, and we are shattered. And sometimes—perhaps often, if we’re lucky—that shattering is the best possible thing to happen to us. Has this happened to you? When the old stories that have held you so long are in tatters and you can’t find your way back to who you were, but you also cannot yet see who you’ll become?

The demolition was fast and violent and loud. And then it was quiet and still.

Now is the slow time. Now there is the rebuilding of the foundation, the re-laying of pipes and wires to bring back warmth and light into the rooms. It is quiet work, fiddly, and some days it doesn’t look like there has been any difference made at all.

This is true for us too. One of my dear friends has found herself shattered, is piecing herself back together. She finds that she is no longer who she used to be but is not quite yet who she will become. There is the foundation to rebuild for her, a set of new habits and reflexes—the new pipes and wires of our personalities, perhaps—to bring back warmth and light. It is quiet work, and fiddly. Sometimes she feels like she’s going backwards.

But this is the thing about renovations—of houses and spirits: the deconstruction is a necessary part of the opening to what comes next.  Without it, we would be left with our old shape forever. It’s messy and sometimes dishearteningly slow. But it is also the condition-creating for a new way. Today we might all ask ourselves what new possibility could be unveiled in us. We ask what deconstruction might be needed. And we might ask what we might find if we dig into places long hidden and open up a passageway where joy and laughter used to flow. I wonder what you’d like to lay down, what you’d like to pick up.

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