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Mending the wounds of a broken family relationship

by Perry Engle

Repairing the plaster walls of an old house is an ongoing chore, but this was no ordinary crack. Actually, it could better be described as a cut, or a gash, or even a wound, but it was time to fix it nonetheless.

I’m sure nobody else had ever noticed it, yet I looked at it all the time. It was about the size of the tip of my finger, but it may as well have been as big as a fist. It was there on the wall, just to the left of where I sit at the dinner table, and I had left it unrepaired for years.

I have replayed the scene dozens of times in my mind, in slow motion (which is how I always see it): My daughter in a rage, screaming at us, her parents—screaming at the world and the injustice of it all. I don’t remember if she said she hated us, but she probably did, because that was what she said when she was angry.

And then, without warning, as an extension of her fury, she flung a CD case—the square kind made of rigid plastic—letting it fly like some kind of weapon.

As I play that moment again in my mind, I still don’t know how it missed hitting her mother in the eye. It couldn’t have been by more than an inch or two. The next instant, it exploded on the wall just beyond my left arm, sending shrapnel across the floor and leaving an indelible mark, one that I have either been unable or unwilling to repair.

This was no ordinary crack—it could better be described as a gash, or even a wound, but it was time to fix it nonetheless.

Spackle is a miraculous, forgiving substance, a white paste used to patch cracks and fissures in the plaster of old houses. I press some into the gouge on the dining room wall. Once dried, it will harden into the consistency of the plaster and can be sanded down, distinguishable only by the difference in color between the snow-white repair and the color of the rest of the wall.

As I run my hand over the spot where the crack used to be, I am amazed at how smooth it is, like the skin of a newborn baby. Soon, I am painting, briskly rolling out a silky layer of Home Depot’s best interior flat enamel. I forget to look, and before I know it, the spot in the wall is gone.

It wasn’t long ago that our daughter sent us an email a couple of months into her first semester of college. My eyes still blur at the words: “You guys have done an awesome job. . . . It’s so hard to comprehend things when you’re young. . . . I’m just glad that I am able to learn from my mistakes. . . . I love you!”

This morning, I looked at our freshly painted dining room through grateful eyes. I couldn’t help but be reminded that as good as I have become at patching, sanding, and painting the walls of my old house, it’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to what God can do to restore our broken lives.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2010 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle spent his Christmas vacation repairing and repainting the living and dining rooms of his house. He and his wife, Marta, and two daughters live in Ontario, Calif. Their oldest daughter, Madeleine, is a social work major at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.

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