A small porcelain figurine sat atop a wooden box on a bedroom windowsill. The figure looked like it was originally an angel, but over the years she had lost her wings, and a good part of her face was chipped. Still, her hands remained clasped in front, head slightly bowed, and the piece had a reverential air about it.
There were many other items in the room. This was, after all, a foreclosed home in Minnesota, and rarely does a property preservation company come across a cleaned-out home. This was no exception. The path from the front door to this upstairs bedroom was littered with a life abandoned. Dirty pots and pans sat in the sink. Above the sink was a window trimmed in a faded yellow lace treatment. On the wall was a calendar whose pages ceased to be flipped around eighteen months ago. Unopened bills waited on the kitchen table. Clothes were strewn everywhere, as were paper plates, and fast-food wrappers, and boxes of Franzia’s “Chillable White.” It didn’t look like the occupant left in a hurry. Rather, it appeared that she simply rummaged through her things and took only what she needed for the next stop in life.
I picked up the angle and found that it was a music box. I turned the little key on the bottom and the mechanism sprung to life. The tune was immediately recognizable. “Amazing Grace.” I didn’t find the sound that sweet, though, as the remnants of a closed chapter of someone’s life were all around me. Melancholy flooded me.
Yet I remained, singing the words quietly to myself. It was as the third verse that the music began to slow. Still, I sang:
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
Maybe, I thought, this little box had already served its purpose. I imagined the previous occupant sitting in her bedroom, watching that broken angle twirl as the music spoke of peace, joy, and redemption. Grace had brought her this far. And wherever it may be, Grace will lead her home.
I wanted to lead someone home, too. The rest of the crew and I started working, and we didn’t stop until we had transformed this dwelling into a tidy little house, the kind of place that a family could drive up to and be proud to call home.
Two weeks later, the home sold.
I’ve driven past this place a few times, and I love seeing life breathed back into this property. In December, there was a wreath on the front door, and the bushes sparkled with multi-colored lights. I saw indentations in the snow from a sled. I imagined the smells of baking cookies.
There is a redeeming factor to working in foreclosures in Minnesota. It’s hard work, both physically and emotionally. But there is also a palpable feeling of civic accomplishment when we see a home transition from vacant to alive, from silent to singing. After all, these communities belong to all of us. And we all belong to them.
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