The interior of my house is completely ripped apart. My husband and I, in a fit of ambition brought on by spending perhaps a little too much time together with all our children this past year, are painting and remodeling.
It’s exciting. It’s also maddening. Literally nothing is where it should be. We’ve had to move every item we own from nearly every closet and cupboard and shelf and place it “somewhere else” (i.e. the floor) while we painted, waited for paint to dry, and then contemplated whether or not we should bother putting any of it back before we have to move it again to accommodate the next round of demolition and reconstruction.
We have hoped to do these renovations for the entire 12 years we have lived in this house, so I am grateful we finally get to move forward. It will be lovely when it’s done. But the progress so far has left me feeling like I am living in a very poorly organized yard sale.
I have re-learned that more than one thing can be true, and I can feel multiple feelings simultaneously. I am enthusiastic about these home renovations while also feeling overwhelmed enough trying to find my kid’s swim shorts to wonder if breathing into a paper sack is appropriate.
As we realized we have embarked on too large a project for amateurs, we hired a professional painter. Nelson is an expert painter, as well as a skilled musician, doting husband and father, and accidental philosopher. He is originally from Guatemala, but now calls Utah home. His English is near-perfect, a symbol of his bravery and determination. My Spanish, learned mostly in classrooms, sounds like an overly-formal Tarzan.
Even so, Nelson is kind and patient and willing to give me some casual language lessons along with his painting services.
“Qué significa este?” I ask him, wanting to better understand a joke a Spanish-speaking friend shared online.
The picture showed one half of a lime, stitched with black thread to one half of an orange, with a caption in Spanish. “When he’s not your better half, but you’re stubborn,” Nelson translated for me, explaining that the joke was about lovers, but the idea could apply to lots of situations. He taught me the verb “aferrarse,” which means to grasp or hang on. Not everything is worth hanging onto, he said.
I have been contemplating “aferrarse” all week, trying to find the elusive balance between fervently supporting goodness and not inviting myself to conflicts where there is nothing to be won, only my mental health and relationships to jeopardize.
It’s hard to say “you do you” and shrug off other people’s choices when they impact everyone else’s health and safety. My social media lit up last week when another Nelson — President Russell M. Nelson of the LDS First Presidency — urged people to wear face masks and get vaccinated to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people, like me, were simply relieved to read a clear statement advocating for current measures to protect public health. It echoed past advocacy in Church-published handbooks promoting good nutrition, hygiene and vaccination.
But others were suddenly experts in nuance, doing Olympic-level mental gymnastics to justify their unwillingness to consider wearing a mask or getting vaccinated.
“This is not a commandment; it’s just President Nelson’s suggestion. I’ll keep my free agency,” read many of the 14,000 comments of the Church’s Facebook post.
There are hundreds of comments campaigning for freedom, personal revelation and avoiding division despite differing opinions.
I generally like all of those things, but reading the online comments in that forum gave me the same feeling as trying to locate a hairbrush in my overturned bathroom: frustration, mixed with despair.
I wonder, how can I honor the fears of those who don’t seem to honor mine? How can I let go of the grief that comes from discovering people I love do not actually share my values like I assumed they did? How many people will needlessly suffer because of pride and stubbornness, and how can we love through it? Will we ever get out of this mess?
I think about my friend Nelson’s lesson on “aferrarse.” Surely, faith in Christ and loving relationships are worth hanging onto.
Contention, resentment, and passionate devotion to misinformation — these are definitely things to let go of.
Contact Sally at email@example.com.