The house I live in is 84 years old. It has good bones but the wood floors in the living room and dining room were worn down to the foundation (or the nails as it were). There was no refinishing left to do. They had to be replaced.
Just the thought of moving all the books off the shelves and the china out of the cabinets was so intimidating that I kept postponing the project.
But as our shoes began to catch on the exposed nails and the crumbs began to gather in the multiple cracks and crevices, I knew I could delay no longer. I had to bite the bullet.
It turned into an opportunity to purge our library, to donate multiple copies of certain items and to rid ourselves of a number of ill-advised purchases.
When the new floor was finally laid and the remaining books restored to their shelves, the effect was stunning – much more orderly and much more attractive. It was a pleasure.
And it still is. But that was months ago. And my obsession with the floor has barely waned.
In between teaching and writing and other professional obligations, in between groceries and laundry and cooking and time with my husband and children, I am down on my knees polishing the floor.
Every scuff has got to go, every crumb must be excised, all that sticky black stuff (is there a more scientific term? And where did it come from anyway?) has to be removed.
Work is calling, my married children are on the phone from far off places but I’m busy scrubbing (not too hard of course. I don’t want to lose the shine!).
We’ve been in this house for almost 26 years, 25 of them with the old floors, the ones I barely noticed and attended to. And my life was just fine.
It’s hard to achieve balance – between taking care of new things and obsessing over them. The floor is now scratched so I can relax some of my vigilance. But two new scuff marks are distracting me.
I’m trying desperately to regain perspective. It’s just a floor. It’s for walking on!
I have people to meet and family needs to address. I have classes to prepare and students to teach. In the scheme of things, these floors are truly irrelevant.
The Talmud lists many questions that we will be asked when we arrive in the world to come after, please God, 120 years – questions about ethics in business, about using our time well, about how we treated those we care about – but nothing about our hardwood floors, new or otherwise!
I’m moving on and letting go. I’m even going to let those mark sit there until tomorrow (well maybe until the end of the day). Life is too short to waste attention on floors. There are too many pressing issues – personal and national – to attend to. No one will remember me for my floors.
So it’s back to work, to study and to growth. Although I wouldn’t mind refinishing the floors in the hall to match the ones in the front of the house…