Friday, October 19, 2007

Chairs on Walls and Other Perspectives on Life

James is puzzled when things are not as they should be. At three, he had an ordered view of the world. Breakfast, then lunch, then dinner—that is how meals should be. Sofas and chairs are on the floor, and pictures hang on walls. That is how rooms should be; all things in their place, and all places arranged in expected ways.

Sometimes this well-ordered world gets upset; take for example, my log room. The grandchildren all love that room because it indestructible—heavy old log walls, slate floor, sturdy furniture, stone fireplace. They can play and make messes and no one gets upset. Soon after the room was finished we carved pumpkins in there because it was too cold to do it outside. We finger-paint, glue, color, play board games, build fires and toast marshmallows and no one worries about how it will all get cleaned up.

When we moved the old cabin that was to become the room, we found many interesting artifacts left by previous inhabitants—old letters, lamps, toys, and at least a ton of trash. Among the detritus was an aged handmade chair in fragile condition. I put the chair away to await the completion of the room because I intended to use items from the original cabin to decorate the new space. The chair proved to be too delicate for regular use however, so I hung it on the wall near the fireplace. It made an unusual and primitive feature and looked right at home in its new setting.
My son Aaron and his family came to visit soon after the room was done to see the new addition to our house. James ran into the log room and stopped short.

“Granny? Chair? Chair hanging on a wall?” He could not believe his eyes and looked at me for confirmation that what he saw was true.

“Yes, James. It’s a chair. I hung it on the wall.” I smiled at him reassuringly.

“Chair—on a wall? Granny? On a wall?”

I had to laugh at his expression. It was clear that he had just felt that strong stone floor shift a little under his feet. This was not how things were supposed to be. Chairs stood on floors; they did not hang on walls.

“James sit in chair, Granny? James sit in chair on a wall?” His eyes danced in anticipation as the idea of sitting on the wall grew in his mind.

It took some explaining to make him understand that it would not be a good idea to sit on the chair as it hung on the wall. He finally accepted that fact, but throughout the rest of his visit he looked periodically to be sure that the chair was still hanging on the wall, and that no one was sitting on it.

A few months later we made more changes at our house. Our youngest son moved out and his newly empty bedroom was a perfect space for a home office. We gave his bed away, rearranged furniture and moved in the computer. It was something we’d needed for a long time, but with a two-bedroom house, it was not a possibility until our nest was empty.

The home office shook James’ world again.

“Granny? Only one bed in your house?” Obviously houses needed more than one bed in James’ view. He walked from room to room looking in vain for another bed, but there was none to be found.

“Where Tommy’s big bed go?”

“I gave it to Derek,” I explained. “He needed it for the girls.”

“Oh. Where James sleep at Granny’s house?”

I showed him the hide-a-bed sofa and the air mattress and he seemed satisfied with that, although he still checked several times that day to be sure there was no other bed hiding in the house.

The chair is still hanging on the wall, and now when James comes to visit he runs in and checks to be sure it’s there. It’s a new reality for him, another accepted arrangement of the items in his world. It’s okay for chairs to hang on walls and for beds to hide in sofas—it’s like that at Granny’s and the house is still standing. He laughs as he points to the chair, remembering perhaps his initial amazement at the sight.

As change swirls around us at dizzying speeds nowadays, I think how much better we would all be if we accepted change as readily as James accepted the chair on the wall. The earth might rock a little underfoot, but in the end we all seem to come through all right, just as that chair stays safely on its nail on the wall.

Chairs on walls and beds in couches—I wonder what he thinks about the fact that Granny now has no television in her house. Probably he’ll note the fact and move on to the next thing to catch his attention, like Clayton's name set into the concrete of our sidewalk.

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