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Jacopo Bassano: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1545)
"Whatever we own, owns us back better, such that we owe it forever."

The porch needed painting but not nearly as much as I needed to paint the porch. That porch needed paint when we slinked out of here twelve years ago, evidence of a certain dereliction of responsibility on my part. I was ashamed of that porch but not as ashamed as I was in myself. SettlingInto involves facing up to some past shortcomings and SettlingUp with them. I feel both humbled and fortunate to find myself in this position. Had we simply moved on without returning, these blemishes would have been permanent or, worse, someone else would have had to do my penance for me, like we did penance for the clown that sometime in the past expanded the kitchen. It was my sincere aspiration when we first took ownership of this place that I might prove to become a worthy steward of its heritage. That's meant considerable undoing of past violations of that heritage and also plenty of doing forward, improvements congruent to its bones. There are books, I imagine, keeping record of my stewardship's debits and credits. I hold myself responsible for repaying those debts, mostly in sweat labor.

Refinishing the porch repaid a long-outstanding debt, including considerable accumulated interest, a reason for genuine celebration.
A series of similar SettlingUps stretch out before me. Doors and windows loom large now and I've been dreaming of setting up a small covered shop in the driveway where I can refinish doors and windows to my heart's content. I have nine or ten doors that want to be stripped and refinished, each exhibiting more than a century of scars and indifference, two that I know I will not rehabilitate but replace. Doors make dandy metaphors for the moving into and moving away from that comprises SettlingInto. I've made no clean break with my past. It follows me like an ever-lengthening shadow, dogging my progress. I might make peace with that past, not by undoing transgressions, which cannot be undone by anyone, but by making good out of them, making better. I owe this place a better coat of paint than I gave it the last time I painted it. I cannot rest easy until I finish SettlingUp these obligations.

Resting easy was not the objective of SettlingInto here. Resting easy's practiced southwest of this address, near the edge of town, where the bones of past stewards lay down beneath giant maples overlooking the mountains. I'm not resting hard, either. I'm not resting yet and I question whether resting could serve as a noble enough objective to pursue. I'm neither tired nor weary. I'm not retired, I'm SettlingInto. I'm not so much SettlingInto as SettlingUp, repaying debit I was in some cases unaware I'd incurred. Becoming a steward seems similar to writing a blank check. I knew for certain when we first signed the papers for this place that I would eventually touch every square inch of it many times over. I felt the daunting challenge of that obligation and felt every bit as unsure as I turned out to be unready for that responsibility. We could have melted off into the distance, gone on exile and never returned, inheriting different wards demanding different stewardships, but we didn't. This one's ours until it isn't anymore.

In this culture, we speak a lot about ownership but little about the underlying stewardship ownership brings. Stewardship's an indenture, done for love or best forgotten. It pays nothing but satisfaction if done well. It haunts you if done poorly. It expects more than you'll willingly pay today, more than you currently possess. It's a mortgage, a promise, a damned-whatever-you-do covenant with which one gets blessed. Were I not painting porch, there's no telling what mischief I might have managed to get myself into. Stewarding's mischief enough. We become what we care for even though what we care for might seem indifferent to our efforts. We keep our own books, repaying imaginary debts to ourselves, assessing gains and losses. There's no free ride. Whatever we own, owns us back better, such that we owe it forever.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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