Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Ups and Downs

The other day, I put some things down on the landing of our staircase. It’s a handy holding place if I don’t feel like running up and down the stairs every few minutes. When there’s enough stuff collected, or when I next go up, I fill my arms with the things I’ve left there and put those items in their proper storage space. (True confession: sometimes I step over those piles for a long time until I can no longer ignore them.)

It got me to noodling about stairs.

This lovely staircase leads to the booksellers at Rouen Cathedral in France. Worth a trip there just so I could peek in at the little door at the top of the stairs!

 I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life; some homes had an “upstairs” and some had a “downstairs” –  basement – and some had no stairs at all. One of the things I loved about the home we live in now when I first saw it, was that it had no basement, but it did have a lovely open staircase that led to two rooms and a bathroom above our living space. It’s where my studio is now, and almost every time I go up, I anticipate good things happening. It’s where I sew and write, and where I can get away from everything and everyone to do so.

On the other hand, I have mixed feeling about basement stairs. Perhaps it’s because my first memory of a basement is a scary one.

In the old farmhouse we called home in the 50s, our indoor pit toilet was hidden in the back corner of a dirt-floor cellar behind a curtain. There was another curtain behind the “throne” (a one-holer), obscuring the stairs that led to a little-used trap-door opening  to the outside.  Sure, we didn’t have to traipse out to the outhouse in the cold and dark,  but for a five-year old, it was another kind of cold and dark down there altogether. A cool draft from behind discouraged lingering if we might be so inclined, and I sure wasn’t. How could I be sure there was nobody lurking behind that curtain when I went down there by myself? And what if I fell into the hole? I did not like that shadowy, cobwebby staircase to the cellar at all, even though, obviously, I had to use it regularly.

During my teen years I slept in a basement bedroom. It was my private hideaway, where I did homework while listening to the radio, where I read books till late, late at night without my folks knowing about it, where I journaled and wondered and began my noodling habit, and realized that I needed my alone time. Later, after marriage, when the kids started coming,  we converted a room in the basement to an office, and I had a room of my own, far from the noisome crowd. Although I still didn’t like going down the stairs into the basement, I was willing to think of these steps as a necessary way of getting to a good space.

I’ve been told that stairways serve as symbols in our inner life. If you dream of stairways, pay attention. It means that you are in the middle of change. An ever-narrowing ascending staircase means that the change is hard. A beautiful staircase means you are excited about the change. A dark and gloomy stairs leading down (often, by the way, a great device in movies to build tension) means you’re afraid of what might be down there.  Makes sense to me.

It makes sense because, after all, life is about change. If you are not changing, you are not growing. So, whether we like it or not, up and down those stairways we must go as we travel through life. It’s not much fun going down – down, down to the depths of your inner self to do the work that needs to be done to change – to face hard truths about yourself, to confess faults, to find it in your heart to forgive someone. We go down to the depths when we experience grief, and anger. We may try to push it away, but eventually we have no choice but to go down. It’s a necessity if we want to get to a better place. Either we go down, or we make a mess, just as I sometimes discovered when I resisted going down to my cellar toilet as a child.

Going up is much more exciting – sometimes difficult, but the journey has its own rewards. We learn something, we achieve a goal, we’re on top of the world. Of course it takes energy, and we may linger on the main floor occasionally, just being couch potatoes. But life is so much more interesting if we make the effort to get up off the couch, to do what we need to do to grow.

This stairway has built in rewards all the way up! No reason to stay on the couch when you have something like this!

And sometimes, if we’re tired, or our hearts are hurting, we end up leaving “stuff” on the landing – a resting place –  until we’re ready to pick up that psychic baggage and put it where it belongs, either “upstairs” or “downstairs.” It may accumulate for a while, but we can’t navigate around the junk pile forever.

So, that’s the end result of my noodling. Not profound, but in this time of political uncertainty, fear and anxiety, maybe we’re just tired of heavy talk. I know I am. Maybe we need to turn our eyes away from politics and do a little self-care, a little gentle noodling to understand where we’re at in our personal journeys.

I wonder where you are on your own staircase – going up, or going down, or resting on the landing for a bit. Wherever you are, don't quit.  Via con dios, and may the journey reward you.

1 comment:

  1. The bottom of my stairway is the top of the dryer as my house has none.