I had my left foot on the third step of the ladder, my right foot on the counter, and my left arm braced on the top of a kitchen cupboard (and my, it does get dusty up there, doesn’t it?). With my right hand, I was applying a strip of gleaming white paint along the edge of a ceiling that someone, under the influence of too many decorating magazines, had painted brown.
Focused on my task, I was only vaguely aware of a whirring noise close to my left ear. I finished the strip of ceiling I could reach and shifted back onto the ladder so I could climb down and move it. As I reached for my paint bucket, something hit my left arm.
That’s when I realized that I had been working away in perfect serenity, oblivious to the ceiling fan blades whipping past just inches from my head. I had a quick flash of the news item: “Woman struck in face by ceiling fan and knocked off stepladder. She suffered only a mild concussion and the loss of a couple of teeth, but on the way to the hospital in the ambulance she nearly died of embarrassment.”
I don’t know how someone in full possession of her faculties, wearing her reading glasses, and fully fortified with caffeine could fail to see a ceiling fan literally in front of her nose. Never mind. Sometimes luck is as good as skill, and a narrow escape from injury and humiliation is still an escape.
After that little incident, the rest of the day was uneventful. I painted edges, using a nifty little pad with rollers along the side to help keep even amateurs on the straight and narrow. My friend applied glistening swathes of white with a thick-napped roller. Loaded with paint, it looked like a long-haired cat that had fallen into a milk jug. We worked, and we talked, and we enjoyed ourselves. By mid-afternoon we had transformed three dark-ceilinged rooms into much brighter spaces for the young family moving into this house.
A young family, including two little ones, that is part of my family. As I painted, I could easily see them growing up here. It’s a great family house with a wonderful back yard. But the very best thing about this house is its location. Instead of growing up two states away, these kids will be growing up right here in Rapid City. I’ll get to see them often, along with their parents, who are the kind of people I would like a lot even if they weren’t related to me.
For that, I’ll paint ceilings, with pleasure. It’s one of those things that we wouldn’t do for money (well, maybe—but only for lots and lots of money), but we’re happy to do for love. You know those things; I bet you’ve done plenty of them yourself.
Things like reading the same book over and over to a toddler who memorized it several thousand hearings ago and corrects you if you slip in an extra word. Or trotting up and down the sidewalk for miles, supporting a little kid who is just learning to ride a bike. Or sewing special-occasion dresses with just-barely-adequate skills. Or cooking family meals every day, for months and years and decades. Or—never mind; I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own examples.
After the painting was done, I made a quick trip to the library and ran into an acquaintance. When I told her I’d been painting ceilings, she laughed and said, “I guess you know how Michelangelo felt, then.”
My first impulse was to disagree. After all, I was in an ordinary house, painting plain white paint. He was in the Sistine Chapel, painting God.
On second thought, when you’re painting for love, maybe those two aren’t so different after all.