Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fixing Up

I don't write often about things like decorating and the care of our buildings and our rooms, but this is supposed to be a blog about what it's like to live in a monastery, so some attention is appropriate to how we keep things fixed up and in order.

Maybe you'd be interested in our rooms (or in monastic parlance, cells). They are all the same, since this building was built in the 60's. They are each 10'x14'. A cell indeed, you might say.

On one wall is a unit that has a desk, some shelves and our bed, which is a foam mattress on a wooden board, and it folds up into the wall when not in use. This is a good thing, because the rooms don't have much room when the bed is down. On an adjacent wall there is another unit with a sink and medicine cabinet, some shelves of various sizes and a small closet. The floor is a cork tile. There are two narrow windows, one of which opens, and this is the source of most of our complaints about the building, since getting any ventilation in the summertime is very difficult. Especially on the top floor, right under the black roof, it can be pretty awful in hot weather.

So there it is. We have what we need and not much else. Appropriate, you might say.

We all have the freedom to put some decoration in the rooms as we please - a carpet, a chair, some things for the walls. It isn't possible to get too elaborate - the size of the space takes care of that. And the nature of our life tends to exercise a continuing pressure as well. I'm always interested to watch new men arrive and struggle to see how much they can get to fit into a 10 x 14 space, and then see, as the years go on, how often the things they've put in the rooms are gradually cleared out. Something about the monastic life makes simplicity seem the best way, and we don't have to have much in the way of rules about it. If we're living our life well, that seems to take care of itself.

My room has needed some fixing up for quite a while. For a time in the late 70's we didn't use the monastery building because we couldn't afford to heat it, and a certain amount of damage was done to walls and ceilings, and my walls showed some of the damage as did the hot water radiator that stretches across one wall. The bed had also gotten damaged somewhere along the line and needed to be fixed. And things were looking shabby. As far as I can figure, the room was last painted about 30 years ago, so I'll just draw a decorous curtain over the subject of how it looked. So some plastering had to be done, and some carpentry and the radiator needed to be cleaned and sanded.

And then painting. Oh my! Do you know how long it's been since I chose paint colors? Jaimie, our building manager, appeared one day with the folder of chips illustrating 500 different colors I could choose from. You all know how this goes. But I pulled a surprise on him - I took about 30 seconds to choose the color. I knew what I wanted - a light gray with just a little hint of green in it, and I knew it the minute I saw it. Jamie was astounded. "Don't you want to think about this?" he kept asking. I could just see him worrying that I was going to change my mind halfway through the paint job, and I'll bet he's seen plenty of that in his years as a contractor. When I insisted, he went on his way, but all of his workers knew the story within a few minutes. The Man Who Chooses Paint Colors Fast - that's me!

And the work happened fast. One man plastered while another worked on the radiator cover. The painting started and was nearly done by late afternoon. The one cinder block wall got washed - I decided not to have it painted, because I like the look of the blocks and the subtle color differences in them. By noon the next day the whole job was done. And yes, the paint did dry darker than it first looked, and it proved to be exactly the color I wanted. Big sighs of relief from the work crew.

Meanwhile I sorted through the stuff that I had carried out of the room. Books which I hadn't read and wasn't going to - off to the library. Knickknacks that have lost their charm to be discarded. Clean the rug. What's going back on the wall?

The result? It's great. All that freshness and the greater degree of simplicity make my space feel more welcoming and more comfortable. My spirits are a little lighter - we really are influenced by our surroundings. Every once in a while I stop and admire that color I chose so quickly, and grin. Nice color. Nice cell.

As I've indicated, we don't do this very often, and that befits our life. But it certainly is nice when we can do it. It feels good to be in there, and it feels good to pray in there.

Spring cleaning is a good thing!

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