That's what you said when you left town
But I fear that on my worst days
I might go myself
And I will burn that fucker down..."
---- Lauren O'Connell, "I Will Burn You Down"
It is a curious feature of North Texas geography that nearly every home eventually ends up with cracks in the walls. I'm told it's a function of our propensity for drought, coupled with the dry sandy soil and the extreme summer heat. Even the finest homes have tiny spiderweb cracks in their walls. These are most often hidden behind layers of spackle, of wallpaper, of stucco, of paint. People spend a lot of time and money patching these fissures, trying to stop them before they spread from baseboard to ceiling molding, before they yawn wide and truly disfigure their homes.
What they fail to realize is that this is ultimately a losing battle. The cracks in the walls are actually a function of damage to the foundation of the house itself -- the integrity of the concrete, of the piers and beams that underpin the whole structure, is compromised. The tiny cracks spiderwebbing up the walls are only a symptom of a much deeper problem, and if it's not addressed, eventually the whole house will start to lean to one side, doors will no longer close, walls will separate from floors. With enough time, the house becomes uninhabitable.
People don't want to admit this to themselves, admit that they have given years of their lives, countless numbers of dollars, their precious energy and labor, to something that is fundamentally a lost cause. They don't want to admit that all they've been doing is staying one step ahead of the decay, patching and making cosmetic repairs while the foundation crumbles beneath them. They don't want to admit that all they've been doing is attempting to keep up appearances, that the deeper problem maybe invisible but is ultimately irreparable.
I understand this. It's hard to admit to yourself, let alone to anyone else, that you've devoted a significant portion of your life and your resources to a lost cause.
It's hard to admit that none of your care, none of your artistry, none of your labor with spackle and paint and paper and plaster can remedy the deeper damage.
It's hard to admit that, no matter how pretty you're able to make things on the surface, sometimes they're rotten at the core.
It's hard to admit that you didn't realize that the home you built was all this time caving in around you, buckling under your feet.
We cover the cracks, plaster over the crevices, polish and paint and paper the broken places, so that no one will see the imperfections. So that no one will ask us whether we've gone down into the basement, into the cellar, into the deep and dark places, and examined the foundation. So that no one will know that what we're standing on isn't solid anymore (or perhaps never was), so that no one will question why we're exhausting ourselves trying to save something that's so clearly collapsing around us.
We do it because sometimes the home we know, no matter how damaged or dangerous, can be preferable to starting over.
But there comes a day when the cracks are too large and too numerous, when the shakiness of the foundation becomes apparent to us. When there's not enough putty and sandpaper in the world to repair the wounds.
It's then that we have to make a decision -- to try once more to patch and repair, or to take a sledgehammer and smash through what's left of the wall, to take it back to the studs, to rebuild from the bottom up. To lay a new foundation and start fresh.
Anyone who's lived through a remodel knows that it's messy, to say the least -- the disorganization, the chaos, the dust and the dirt and the half-finished walls and the plastic sheeting. There's a sense that it will never end, that you'll be living in this disaster for the rest of your days.
And then one day it's over, and you look around at the clean, new, beautiful home you've created for yourself, and all that doesn't matter so much anymore.
The hardest thing I have ever done in my life is to shine a light into the dark corners of the cellar of my marriage. To put down the paintbrush and the putty knife. To pick up the sledgehammer. To admit to myself that those cracks couldn't be repaired, that they would reappear over and over. To take the first mighty swing and let that life begin to crash down around me.
But I took a deep breath, trusted in the strength of my arms and my heart and my spirit, and I tore that fucker down.
I don't have to live with those crevices, step on those cracks anymore.
But I bless them every day, because they're what finally let the light in.