Sacred Spaces

“Come healing of the limb.”

You know how tasks—really, any behavior—can be transformed by the intention we bring to them, where the most mundane movements can become an elevated experience through the thoughts and feelings and desires we attach to and reap from our efforts. Today, as I sweated over dusting, scrubbing, sweeping, and mopping the vertical and horizontal surfaces of our dining room, kitchen, and pantry/utility room/entrance to the house from the garage, I listened to a playlist that included Leonard Cohen’s “Come Healing,” with his deep-voiced repetition of the lines, “Come healing of the spirit/Come healing of the limb.” After a project last week that involved nearly four hundred two-foot lengths of jute twine (one of the messiest ways to tie together a small package!), the floors were in desperate need of attention, and it wasn’t until today that I had both the time and the will to address them. My husband was devoting his one-day staycation to pruning from our trees the death the ice storm back in February had delivered to various parts of them; if I couldn’t be up in the branches on the tall ladder with him, at least I could join him in cleaning up.

When we moved into this house five and a half years ago, the floors on the first level were covered with a series of vinyl strips meant to imitate wood, but they were past being convincing: They were permanently stained with dirt and had worn thin, exposing their true material composition and their underlying rust-orange tones. We peeled the vinyl planks off the cement foundation—there’s actually a specialized tool for that—and then set about polishing the cement itself. We opted not to stain the expanse, but instead to retain the foundation’s original color, mottled and speckled and marked with the decades-old imprints of work boot treads and the ghosting of the different cure rates below the previous vinyl strips. We arranged to rent the tools we needed—for a sequential process utilizing a series of grinding pads from the roughest grit to the finest—but the guy at the equipment rental offered a cash deal: He and his team of experts would do the polishing work over the weekend for the same price as a week-long rental would cost us. (Clearly, this was well before the current pandemic-induced shortages and high prices of construction resources.) We (of course!) chose their labor over ours, and then were deeply relieved we had, since the hardness of the cement of our foundation exceeded anything the foreman and his team had encountered on any other residential sites, and they broke a number of pieces of equipment in a protracted process that took multiple weekends to complete. The shiny floors now reflect light, bouncing it around the walls and furniture, casting sunshine on the ceilings. During the many months of heat here in Austin, we can feel the cement’s soothing coolness move up our bodies, from feet, along arms, all the way to our heads; in the winter, we can trace along the cement where the hot water travels through the embedded plumbing.

Today, as my husband climbed and reached throughout the yard, and as I pushed and pulled within the house, our arms and legs extended by tools and operating within the spaces and against the structures that needed our care, I was overwhelmed again with gratitude: gratitude for the stewardship of a home and yard; gratitude for our agility and energy; gratitude for trees and surfaces that yield themselves to our work with them, that respond with gleaming beauty; gratitude for damage turned to wholeness, for grittiness turned to smoothness, for the abundant happiness possible in the simplest ways.