You buy an axe. The axe consists of two parts, a handle and a blade. After six months, the blade breaks and you replace it with another one. After another six months, the handle breaks and you replace it with another handle. The question they ask in your Philosophy 101 class in college is this: Is this the same axe that you bought a year ago?
It is the same thing when it comes to our new house in Baltimore. We knew when we bought the house — a 130-year old, 4600-square foot townhouse in Bolton Hill – that it was going to require a lot of work. But we completely underestimated exactly how much work was going to be necessary. We knew that we were going to replace the kitchen and two of the bathrooms. We also knew that we were going to need to replace many of the appliances. What we did not know was that we were going to have to replace every single appliance in the house — and the roof and the skylights and the heating and air conditioning systems as well.
When we moved to Philadelphia many years ago, we made the mistake of showing the new house to our children – still very young at that point – when the furniture of the former owners was still there. Having seen the house with someone else’s imprint on it, this made it seem to our children – at least initially – as if we were trespassers, as if we were living in someone else’s house.
I remember, for example, my then six-year-old son inspecting the room we told him was going to be his. With the room still decorated as a guest room and looking very much like something that would belong to his grandmother, he did not look too pleased as he poked the mattress of the bed to see how comfortable it would be. No, no, we had to tell him. This will be your room but it will be filled with your bed and your toys and your clothes. We will repaint it a color that you choose.
The good news about all the work needed on our new home in Baltimore, if there is any, is that, like the axe with both its handle and its blade replaced, it will no longer be the same house once all the changes are completed. Suddenly, miraculously, it will have been transformed from a stranger’s house into our new home.