Open house

The house where I live is a not very beautiful yellow stone building with garish blue trim framing narrow windows. The bleak green room where I'm sitting does not match the colors of the other rooms, each of them too cramped for comfortable living. I've made small improvements in the decor, hanging pictures on walls, installing plants in the windows, but the overall appearance does not change. The design was conceived by an architect I've never met, and will probably never be altered in any significant way. The landlord does not live here and seldom visits the premises.

There is another house I occupy which is the house of my life. This is a nonphysical structure I've designed myself, a dwelling composed of my ideas, actions, feelings, beliefs, dreams, and perceptions. The raw material of this house has been shaped with the tools of my imagination, intellect, and heart. I have used them as a carpenter uses his tools, building gradually, working daily through the afternoon and sometimes into the evening, making changes, additions and subtractions, trying to get it right.

In building the house of my life I've been limited only by the frailty of my resolve, my occasional lapses of courage, my inexperience. In the beginning I knew almost nothing about the task ahead of me. I had no skills and was uncertain as to what I wanted to accomplish. I began by patterning my house after the ones around me, the fashionable homes on the street where I grew up. I wanted mine to resemble these others, and my earlier efforts, my attempts to copy, were failures.

One room, where I labored for two years, simply collapsed as I was working. The walls of another were crooked. I couldn't conceal that. Or a stairway that went nowhere. Everything was going so badly I wanted to quit. I was proceeding blindly, my anxiety and fear coloring the rooms where I worked.

I might have given up if I had not had help, if there had not been friends there to advise and counsel, to share their experience, the wisdom distilled from their own mistakes. At their urging I went back and examined what I'd done, the foundation and several rooms I thought were finished. I removed much of what was there, beginning again, trying new things, revising and rethinking my work. The shape of my life began slowly to change, becoming something I could take pride in. With each day's work I learned more about what I was doing, and what I learned I began to use in my house: this knowledge becoming the rooms which surround me, the walls sheltering me, the door through which I walk.

I fashion each room now as carefully and as elegantly as I can make it, taking time with the details, correcting and refining. The frustration I felt in the beginning has been replaced by the sheer joy of making something that is mine, the awareness that I have the freedom, and the tools, to create something unique and valuable, this construction which is the house of my life. It proceeds according to a blueprint I carry inside me: an externalization of what I feel and think, an outward expression of inner beauty and warmth.

I've painted one room with the colors of the sunset over mountains, a bank of clouds spreading out like white lace against a pure cerulean sky. Another room has been painted with the light of the universe, its walls glazed with a pastiche of stars. For the ceiling of a third room I've re-created the sky as it appeared over my childhood, each detail preserved as in the original. The room is tiny but its windows open out in all directions.

From that opening shines a light that flows out in a thin but powerful stream , a light that is my love for the world and all living things. This brightness is the electricity that powers the house, without which these rooms would remain in darkness. Because I have more light than I need, I pass on what isn't used to others, the light becoming brighter as it moves from one person to another.

Tonight in the house of my life I've stopped work to sit outside in the late summer evening. Here on the porch I can taste the breeze that comes down from the mountains, the faint scent of sagebrush and pine, the earth cooling as the night sounds begin again. For a while I sit here in the stillness, reflecting on what I've accomplished and what I have yet to do. When later I step back inside, I will leave the front door open and a light burning in the window: my welcome to all those who wish to visit. With them I will share all the things of my house, a sharing that perhaps will become part of both of our lives, a friendship that throws back light to the farthest stars.

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