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Really Old Wallpaper

Really old wallpaper. It stops me in my tracks every time. A sobering reminder of my own mortality.

Here’s what happens: I’m a Realtor showing a client a mid-19th century house. Somewhere, usually tucked in the back of a closet or stairwell I find the original wallpaper. It’s often peeking through the peeling layers of subsequent coverups or it’s in such an obscure place that future homeowners never bothered to remove it.

While my clients wander through the house I stop and stare at the filigreed print refugee from 1891. I think about who picked it? How did she pick it? (Forgive my sexism but I’m going to assume that most wallpaper was picked by a ‘she’ in 1891.) How many rolls of wallpaper did she go through to end up with this? Did she get excited with anticipation when she brought it home? Did she hang it herself? What did she love about this particular pattern? What matched it? Did her husband like it?

But mostly I think about my own mortality.

This wallpaper spoke to a woman now dead. It made her happy and ‘feathered her nest.' She likely thought, like we all do, that the choice of that wallpaper was an important one and it (and she) would live forever. It did. Or might. She didn’t. Decades later I’m looking at her handiwork and thinking about this anonymous woman. I am reminded that one day the choices I make will be evaluated by someone who thinks that the prime of their life is eternal. It isn’t. I’m not.

It makes me want to order my life accordingly. Seize the Day. Do the important things. Finish strong. Leave a legacy that won’t be stripped because I made frivolous choices in my last laps.


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