The Painting Project
About a month ago, I saw the perfect Facebook marketplace listing. It was nothing I’d been looking for but everything I suddenly wanted. Somebody was selling a huge collection of large wooden swings for just $100 each. I’ve been slowly accumulating items needed for retreats, like tents with my quarterly bonus, a massive 50% haul from Dollar General, and treasures unearthed from storage. This was about to be the perfect addition.
Because of our hefty purchase, the sellers were kind enough to throw in a gallon of red paint they purchased for their own makeover. “He doesn’t like ‘projects’,” the middle-aged woman said while tossing her fingers into air quotes (and I’m fairly certain I caught an eye roll to go with them). “He” was a white-haired rancher we presumed was her father. Based on the size of the ranch house and the acreage, he could afford new furniture.
While $100 per swing may not seem like a bargain, these were the exact same ones I’d been eyeing at the local store for $300 each. They were slightly little weathered, but the possibilities running through my mind made them worth the drive. So much so, in fact, that we drove back a second day in a row to buy more.
Back on our own farm, we unloaded the furniture around the property. It was in really great shape, save for the paint. The least weathered sits on our front porch. The most weathered sits on the tiny house deck awaiting some TLC. Everything in between occupies the area behind our house that I have dubbed “the sunset circle“.
Ryan went to work immediately, painting the large picnic table from our purchase. In his mind, its unsightly weathering brought down the caliber of his nearby cattle pasture fence and shiny red Farmall tractor. The rest of the furniture sat waiting for its day in the sun, while I waited for some motivation to paint.
The first touch-up layer happened the day my friend Sondra came to visit. I thought she might take photos around the property with her fancy camera. I knew from earlier images I‘d taken for social posts that the swings were not photogenic in the least. If nothing else, I could camouflage the greying wood peeking out from the weathered benches. As it turned out, we didn’t visit the sunset circle, but at least they were one step closer to renewal.
Last week, after staring at “paint outdoor furniture” on my To Do list for what now seemed like months, I decided to shirk the heat and finish off the chairs. My husband had mowed so everything about the “backyard” looked pristine but these sad half-worn swings. Armed with my paintbrush and half empty gallon of paint, I headed for the furniture. As I began to spread paint on the harder-to-reach places, I became overwhelmed by this task’s metaphors for life.
The first (and most obvious) analogy was the paint color. Called “caliente”, a perfect match for the nearly triple digit day, the resulting color was a fiery red. However, it smoothed on as a neon pink, a little bit brash until it dried. I thought of how many times the end result has been just what I needed, even if the situation appeared differently in the beginning.
Next, as I began to contort my body to paint in between railings and chains, I realized this second attempt at painting was considerably harder than the first. It made me think of my healing journey, or anyone’s for that matter.
We tackle the biggest and most obvious issues first: break up with a toxic partner, give up our most dangerous vice, take a huge pivot in our career. Do the big, brave thing, all for the sake of self-preservation. That step is by no means easy, but it can offer the biggest reward, just like looking at the circle of furniture from a distance and seeing a beautiful new color.
Everything from that life-changing moment becomes far more tedious. At that moment, the real work begins.
As I painted, I noticed areas that might require me to disassemble the furniture, turn it over, come at it from a different angle. I carefully tucked the brush up into hard-to-reach crevices. The work had to be slow and methodical so that I didn’t drip paint everywhere and the strokes dried uniformly.
By the time I reached the last chair, I was exhausted. And muy caliente. Even though the project was not complete, the finishing touches would have to wait. There was no sense in depleting myself for the sake of “perfect” chairs. Besides, real, sustainable growth takes time.
And therein came the final lesson.
These chairs will sit out in the elements for the rest of their days. The wind continues to knock them over on a weekly basis. Their exterior paint will probably be no match for the Texas sun. There is no standard of perfection that I can attach to them, because perfection is unattainable. They will always need some amount of touch-up.
This week, the last inch of paint in the bottom of the can will cover a few places I was simply too fatigued to finish. I will consider the work done…for now, and the Sunset Circle will become a place of magic, a place of camaraderie, and most importantly, a place of healing.