Weathered Grace

Sunday afternoon, just home from church, I’m scraping 60 years of crud from a couple dozen old boards. I like to imagine I am redeeming them. Turning ugly into beautiful. Giving these boards a new home as the backdrop to my creative studio. I hope they appreciate how close they were to the dump.

I’ve always loved the look of weathered wood. Rich yellows fade into walnut greys. Knots and grains pop with the accumulated darkening of decades and dirt. These wrinkles and age spots may be my favourite patina.


Two weeks ago we were tearing our old cold room apart. I found these boards building in a pile–with enough strength and similarity to become something new. I set them aside and schemed. That cold room became the back half of this new studio. Those old shelves are now becoming wall panels. In fact, they were made to be wall panels. They bore heavy loads since the 50’s or 60’s, but that was not their design. Today they are restored to their rightful place. 

Restored, but not completely. Theirs is a rough-hewn grace.

I want to be sure these boards are free from toxic wear. No bugs, please. No black mould either. No ancient sneezy dust. But sanding these boards would be a step too far. They would lose not only their filth but their character, too. The goal here is not some idyllic infancy. I want these boards to show their beautiful scars with pride.

I scrub the wood with a brush. The dust puffs away in clouds. Grime is clawed loose. Sometimes with fingernails. Rusted and bent nails are banged and pried loose. Finally, with a cloth, the boards are washed down with bleach and soap and water. 

I finish just in time to head to Blue Christmas.

At Bleeding Heart and St.Faith’s We are holding a special liturgy for those who mourn at Christmastime. Space for grief in a time of joy. 

In the darkened foyer of St.Faith’s candles sparkle light across 60 glass teardrops as a crowd gathers. Some faces I recognize. Some I don’t. We begin with a welcome. The hope I can offer here is one of shared suffering. Not a promise that things will get better. At least not soon. Not today. Not a hope that lost ones will return. At least not in this life. Not a hope that the dead will rise. Not yet. Not likely by Christmas.

There are readings. A song is played. There is silence. Rev. Lori Calkins leads us in a conversation about our pain. There is more silence. One by one we give voice to those dark infections. Those heavy burdens. Those secret scars. We speak for those who can no longer speak. 

Stories of pain are shared. Pain so heavy it could tear your heart in two. This part is difficult. But less so because people are listening.

Lori asks us if there is a metaphor that comes to mind. Something that looks and feels like our pain. I think of those boards. Their dust still clings to my hands. When I touch my face I smell swimming pools. The bleach.

I remember the beauty carved into those boards by decades of decay. Their shimmering scars. The way I want to heal those boards, but not so much they lose the surfaces they’ve earned.

I don’t want them as they were before life touched them. I want them as they are now, only well.

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