Painting the Dirt

Dust are our frames, and, gilded dust our pride.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson ~ 19th century British poet)

The newlyweds moved into the little two bedroom frame house and began to learn about life together.  They laughed.  They cried.  They argued—a little.  They cried some more.  

Mostly, they laughed.

Sometimes, all they had to do to find something to laugh about was to look across the lane to a tiny house just like theirs.  The elderly lady who lived there was a nice neighbor, as friendly as they could hope for, but she had a strange habit.  

She dusted her yard.  With a dust mop.

They laughed and wondered what possible benefit there could be to dusting one’s yard.  Now, nearly forty years later, the young man (who is growing old) wishes he had asked the lady herself.  Well?  Who wouldn’t wonder why she dusted the lawn?

It doesn’t make much sense, does it?  The yard was just dirt and grass, and more dirt than it was grass.  

He has some questions still:

How would one know when the job is completed?  

Is it a job which must be done daily?  Weekly?

Would the neighbors notice if the job were left undone?  

He’ll never know the answer to his questions since the dear lady has been in Heaven many years now.  But, the couple still laughs when the seemingly useless task comes to mind.  Surely it was a complete waste of her time.

It’s a futile thing to do, dusting dust.

Kind of like painting tombs, isn’t it?

The Teacher laughed at the old men with their paint brushes.  The graves of His day weren’t much like ours.  Caves and hollows in the hillsides, covered with stones to keep out the varmints and grave-robbers—that was all they were.  No amount of paint could quell the stench that wafted to passersby.

Whoa!  I wonder what died!

I say it to myself frequently as I ride my bicycle in ever-widening circuits around our little town, especially along the narrow country lanes.  I can’t see the culprits, but I can certainly smell the odor left behind by death.  Skunks, raccoons, o’possums, even the occasional armadillo—all add their noxious fumes to the fresh country air.

I wonder if the white-wash on the stones over the grave openings fooled anyone back then.  I’m thinking not many were hoodwinked into thinking there was anything desirable under that big white rock.

Dust mops and paint brushes are useful tools.  For the right purpose.

The high-school-aged boy lugged the heavy black case in from the parking lot last week.  He seemed a little embarrassed to be bringing the huge instrument into the music store.

“Could you get me a lyre to fit this tuba?” he asked.  “I bought one the other day, but it’s the wrong shape.”

I laughed humorlessly.  It is a problem I have struggled with for many years.  I never seem to remember the essentials from year to year, though.

I pulled out a long, straight brass-looking lyre from the appropriate location.  

“Give me a minute.  I’ll make it work.”

They say pride goes before a fall.  They are right.

I put the tail of the music holder into my vise and pushed on the other end of it, bending it in the approximate direction I knew it needed to go.


The long rod, a foot long just a moment ago, was now only eight inches long.

That can’t be right!  Brass is soft and bends easily!  How could I break it so quickly?

You already know the answer, don’t you?

It’s not made of brass—only covered with brass plating.  Underneath?  Pot metal.  Cheap trashy metal made from a mixture of soft metallic substances, cast into the shape of a costlier steel and then plated to be appealing to buyers.

Whisking the dust away from dirt doesn’t make it any cleaner.  

Painting a stinking grave doesn’t make it any less offensive.  

Plating pot metal gives it no additional strength whatsoever.

Dust are our frames,… 

Lord Tennyson understood the premise.  Who would argue that we are, indeed, dust?  Even those white-washed graves can’t keep our bodies from returning to their beginnings.  Eventually.

And yet, here we stand—arrogant things—boasting of who we are and what we have done.  Merely dirt, yet we would have anyone else believe there is no longer any residual dirt underneath the decorated surface.

…and, gilded dust our pride.

Gilding causes the article it covers to appear as pure gold.  Pure gold!

There is a test for gold, just as bending will show the difference between brass and pot metal.  The test for gold?

gold-724390_1280Job knew the answer to that.  And, when He has tried me, I shall come forth as pure gold.

Through the fire, the mettle of the whole piece will be known.

I’m not sure I’m ready for the fire.  Yet.

I want to be.  I want to be sure that I will prove to be pure gold, just like Job.

But, I’m confident there are a fair number of refinements which will need to happen first.  

I want to be ready for the fire.



We’re all pretty bizarre.  Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.
(from The Breakfast Club ~ American movie ~ 1985)


Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
(I Corinthians 3:12,13 ~ NASB)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

One thought on “Painting the Dirt

  1. Really liked this post as part of me was busy trying to interpret the woman’s actions of mopping the dirt. And yet, it mattered to her. And I’m sure she got pleasure from it and cared little what others thought. The truth is we are an anomaly to others. Or at least I know I am. There are certain norms most of us try to follow, but then there are those who do what they do, no matter who is watching, no matter whose ears are pealed. I like your writing style. You take us on little trips.

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