All of our lives we are told to look out for others. We are taught to be selfless, to be giving, caring, to be this and that. We are told to always be on the look out for someone to love, care for and watch over. Our sights are always set outward. This has been true for me all of my life, almost to a fault.
I look outward so much that I never took a breath to look inward until I was actually diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I looked inside and saw cobwebs, dusty tables, dirty corners, blackened walls, peeling wallpaper, and boards covering every window and door. It looked as if no one had stepped foot into this place for years. It may have started out as a beautiful place with elegant furniture, a beautiful glass chandelier that hung over everything and lit the room up with a glow, comfortable chairs to sit and relax in, decorative wall paper, clean and tidy, and a subtle scent of vanilla that was comforting when you sat next to the fireplace, crackling away. Yes, it’s a scene out of a movie when the narrator steps into a room and the black and white transforms into a brilliant splash of color as the dream comes to life and the beauty rushes over the room, touching every inch available. The narrator spins and suddenly they’re dressed up in the most beautiful dress made just for them and the room is filled with joy and laughter. The moment lasts but for a minute until the color fades and seeps out the corners and we are once again, left in the black and white of the room. The dress fades to rags and the scent of vanilla is replaced with a musty smell that makes you cringe.
What happened here?
An old housekeeper comes out from the shadows and invites you to sit down by him on the dusty chair as he begins his story. The chair expels a layer of dust as he pats the seat for you and you cough, trying to wave it away. You take a seat next to this man that seems to be from a memory you can’t quite remember. I’ve seen this place before but I can’t remember where. He begins his tale of a beautiful palace that was once treasured. It was the most loved palace in the world and there was always someone there to take care of each piece of delicate furniture. There were parties, friends, beauty and no hint of dust anywhere. The days were bright and the nights were filled with stars and moonlight. It was a sight out of The Great Gatsby and you were whisked away to the 1920’s where you could dance all day in this beautiful palace.
Then one day, the owner left. The party came to a halt as the guests watched her leave. Nobody knows why she left or where she went but she disappeared one day and we watched her fade into the shadows beyond the palace. We tried to continue the party. We tried to keep smiling. The housekeeper coughs as he inhales too much dust and continues his sad tale. The dust started gathering in the corners as the guests left. There was no reason to keep it pretty anymore and the owner wasn’t there to take care of the palace. One by one, the people began to leave until there was nothing left. So, the palace sat empty and alone. The chandelier collected dust, the fireplace remained frozen, the furniture disappeared under the dirt, the wallpaper tried to leap off the walls and the air became filled with sadness. The housekeeper never left though. He remained to make sure nothing evil could get in and tear down the palace completely. Without the owner there to help, it was difficult but he had been doing it on his own for years now. He was okay but he was getting tired. The monsters came more regularly and he could’ve sworn he saw the owner standing in the distance watching the palace become more and more destroyed.
“Why didn’t she stop the monsters?” You ask the housekeeper.
“The owner didn’t know how. She forgot to love herself.”
Suddenly it hits you.
You are the owner. This was and still is your palace. Each piece of furniture is a piece of you, the fireplace burns when you are alive, the lovely scent comes when you’re joyful, the chandelier is bright when you smile and the guests arrive when you welcome them into the beautiful palace that is you. You were once a beautiful palace for everyone to treasure. Then you forgot to love yourself and instead began looking outward towards other palaces to take care of. You go over and help them clean and tidy up as yours rots away in the past.
We are told we are selfish if we take care of ourselves and put ourselves first but I disagree. You can’t love others until you love yourself. You can’t help clean other palaces until you truly know how to clean. You don’t truly know how to clean until you’ve cleaned your own palace. You can’t make another palace truly shine until your own is shining brighter than ever. Until then, the dust is swept under rugs, the dirt is blended in to the floor and the mess is tucked away. It may look pretty but the ugly is still there.
I’ve forgotten about my own palace until now. The housekeeper reminds me of the beauty this place once possessed and I realize it will never be beautiful until I look at it and decide it is.
“Why are you still here?” I ask him.
“Because I never forgot the beauty.”
What beauty? I look around and all I see is ugly. I want to run away to other beautiful palaces and stay there. I’ll help clean and enjoy their beauty instead. I don’t want to sit in my ugly palace and look at the dust, smell the musty air and feel the overwhelming sadness. There is a small desire to improve and to bring the beauty back but it’s so small. The work that it would take to make it beautiful once again looks to be a mountain. I’m too tired to climb all the way up by myself and the rocks look dangerous. Who would come to see the palace anyway? They’ll just remember it as it was: ugly. They’ll just see the dust and decay. That’s all I see.
“What you see is different from everybody else.”
Is it really? Or are they there because they’re being polite? Or worse, to make fun of me. What if I let people in and they try to tear me down? That’s why the palace became boarded up in the first place. Nobody gets to come in to destroy it. But nobody gets to come out either. Here we lie, in the middle of a beautiful disaster, this limbo of empty.
What do I do now?
The old housekeeper smiles, grunts as he stands up and his bones creak under the pressure. When he straightens, his back pops a couple more times and he turns to me.
“Grab a broom. Let’s get started.”