80: Starting Fresh

80: Starting Fresh

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Starting Fresh

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.

~F. Scott Fitzgerald

A house fire had destroyed nearly everything we owned. Even my daughter’s baby book was sodden with moisture and stained with soot. While I felt grateful that none of us had been hurt, the task of rebuilding our lives from scratch seemed more challenging than climbing Mount Everest.

With plywood nailed over the windows, our fifteen-year-old house now looked more like a story from the evening news than the place where our family had lived for the past nine years. My eyes filled as I waited for the contractor to arrive. How could this have happened? And how would we ever recover from it? My head spun with the enormity of it all.

An inventory from the restoration crew filled pages that needed to be checked and verified. How many sweaters did I have? What was in the top dresser drawer? What games did the children own? A family of four can collect a lot of things over the years. A mind numbing fog swirled through my brain, clouding my ability to think. Grappling with the list felt like taking a test for which I’d forgotten to study. Life as it used to be seemed more a fragmented memory than a reality. Tears spilled down my cheeks.

The sound of a car announced the contractor’s arrival. He was kind enough to look away as I scrubbed a damp tissue across my face. Then he cleared his throat and gruffly spoke.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get the work done on your house as fast as we can.”

I managed a weak smile.

“But where do we begin?”

“My crew will put a dumpster in the driveway. Once all the damaged materials are removed, we’ll start to put things back together.”

“So, we just wait until you’re done?”

He shook his head at my question.

“You’ve got a lot of decisions to make. The carpet needs to be chosen and paint colors selected for every room. Then there’s your wallpaper and plumbing fixtures. The cabinets and countertops are custom made, so you’ll need to order them in plenty of time for installation. You’ll have to replace your furniture and lights. Most everything will need to be picked out well in advance so it will be here when we’re ready for it.”

I gulped and wished I had a place to sit.

“How long do I have to do all this?”

“The process should take about three months. Considering the time it takes for ordering and delivery, if I were you, I’d get started right away.”

Rebuilding and furnishing a house, plus replacing clothes and personal items for everyone in the family. Impossible. I could feel the blood drain from my head. My shoulders drooped from the weight of his words.

“I can’t do it.”

I blinked back more tears and the contractor reached out to pat my arm awkwardly.

“Ma’am, you need to start thinking about this project as an opportunity. Was there something about your house you wanted to change? Any remodeling you ever considered? Well, now’s the time.”

I chewed my lip and thought about it. We’d always lived in rentals or houses that had been designed by others. I wanted to change things to suit my own taste, but never had the money or time. As I contemplated the possibilities, a spark of enthusiasm began to push away defeat. A new idea emerged. I would focus on one room at a time, with the overall goal of creating my dream home. Suddenly the task seemed more manageable. Like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle.

A short time schedule meant that agonizing over every detail would be impossible. I resolved to go with my first instinct on every choice. A half dozen of my favorite decorating magazines became guides as I hacked my way through a forest of decisions. Choose a carpet color. Done. Pick out new cabinets. Finished. Light fixtures? No problem. I changed our great room to a design that would be more open. Dreary looking woodwork was transformed by white paint. Six-panel doors replaced the plain and dated construction-grade ones. Each item checked off my list brought me closer to my “new” house. It even surprised me that all traces of my usual wishy-washy decision-making style had disappeared.

A friend was awed by my prowess. “I can’t even pick out one color to paint the bathroom. How can you make your entire house the way it used to be in only three months?”

Like everyone else involved with the project, she got my answer in a flash.

“I’m not resurrecting the old house. I’m creating a new one.”

Nearly three months later, the final piece of furniture nestled into its proper place. I walked through each room inhaling the scent of fresh paint. My feet pressed into the carpet. I slid my hand over an oak table that gleamed in sunshine filtered through white wooden shutters. The house turned out as beautifully as I had hoped. Now a new chapter of our lives awaited.

Thanks to a simple change in perspective, I’d been pulled from a quicksand of despair. It gave me the energy and strength to do what I needed to do. And once every task had been completed, I realized it wasn’t only my house that had changed. I’d been transformed, too.

From victim to victor.

~Pat Wahler

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