It was disgusting.
It was beautiful, with a touch of the former glory in it.
When we pulled up the carpet in the old chapel last week, we discovered a lovely, old oak floor — coated with ugly, thick carpet glue.
Floors go through phases; this one had. When the oak was put in, it must have radiated the glossy, unmarred sheen that graces new hardwood flooring, showing off its deep, rich contrasting colors, its lovely grain, burls, knots and rays.
But then years later, when the wood had lost it’s appeal to someone, they apparently got quite excited, with the glue, and put on lots and pulled shag carpet over the fading glory.
When the chapel received its carpet, it was because it had become a worship venue for young people, excited about the Holy Spirit, living the Christian charismatic movement of the seventies, acting out a kind of Southern California, hippy-pentecostal, glory-driven, praise-infused vibe with the Holy. I know; I was in my twenties then, and I was there. I sat on that shag carpet — it was a lonely time in my life — and yet I too worshipped. It was good, that season of the church; however, it ended badly, in a relational wreck, caused by the pastor.
And now, oddly enough, forty years later, on a hot evening in July, here I was sitting on that same floor, with carpet glue all over my hands, beside my friend Glen, who had been there too. He helped put in the carpet.
The glue lay in loops and broad bands on the floor in front of us — at odds with the wood’s lines, unnaturally strewn, unhappily paired, poorly synced, at odds with the wood — a tar-based, sickly gray, denatured, skulking industrial gunk. We were there to get it off, to make the room shine again, with the former glory.
An hour earlier, I had poured Krud Kutter on the floor, a nontoxic, biodegradable multipurpose cleaner. It softened the glue, kind of, but not enough.
So following a tip for a construction guy, we poured KIngsford orderless lighter fluid on top of the glue. That worked — kind of — and turned it into something like what originally came out of the can or plastic bottle or what ever evil hole this gray-green-brown gunk oozed out of. And so, with some hard scraping and scratching, the glue came off.
Glen and I sat together and talked and scraped glue, and wiped it on the edge of a plastic bucket. Then we rubbed the residual glue off the floor with white, clean, dry clothes. The white cloths turned a nasty-looking brown.
I asked Glen about his son, who is estranged from him. There is pain there, I know, I know the story, I know the son, and I know Glen. Glen is a good dad, with some great kids and grandkids, but with this one son, there is history — relational gunk not easily scraped off.
I changed the topic. I asked him about the ultralight plane he is building. That got him talking. Glen talked about the beauty of flying. He was eloquent on lift, speed, thrust, stalls, gliding. It made me want to fly, without a license, fast, with nothing around me but a frame, and an engine with some good horsepower, and some light wings, and to take chances, and do some serious sliding, across the wind.
I asked him if he had recovered from wrecking his former ultralight plane. He had totaled his last one, hitting the top of a tree when he was trying to land, yelling “Jesus” just before he hit the ground, then driving himself home, not going to the ER until later, finding out from the scans that he was really quite smashed up. It took him months to recover. He told me there were still some aches and pains, but he was eager to get into the air again.
We scraped glue, sitting side-by-side, and poured lighter fluid, and talked on into the evening. Maybe it was the lighter fluid fumes, maybe it was the passion of two men trying to make an impossibly marred floor shine again, maybe it was the shared pain, maybe the shared vision to bring praise back to the room — maybe the old praise songs are still in the wood — maybe, maybe, maybe, but as we finished up our few feet of progress, we both felt a deep calm, and tiredness and a kind of aching peace.
And sitting, scraping, it was as if Glen and I were up in the sky together, above all the gunk and all the pain, above all the wreckage of the church and of our lives, in the ultralight, defying space and time, and the floor seemed to me like the wind, with us together, gliding over it, not alone, praising once again, flying fast now, over the glory.