I Am A Markered Couch

By Erin J. Walter

photograph of a tattered tan cloth couch

So often people ask, "How do you do all the things you do?" I can never decide whether to take this as a compliment or whether to start rattling off all my major insecurities, fears, and embarrassments. “Thank you! You should see my paper piles and dust bunnies!” I say, trying to strike a balance of gratitude and messy honesty when I can. (If you ever want to talk about being simultaneously bold and insecure, please holler.)

A much as anything, though, when I get questions like that, I think of THIS COUCH. Y'all, THIS WAS OUR COUCH. It was our couch for 11 years. And it was used when I bought it -- $40 from Brown Elephant charity resale shop back in Chicago. For years, this couch needed to go, but with rowdy kids, a busy husband, and me trying to get through seminary, I couldn't deal with it.

This couch, like so many things, was triaged for the sake of other goals and dreams. This couch, for better or worse, is one of the ways I manage to be a minister, a musician, and a mother. I wait 11 years to spend an ounce of time, energy, or money on furniture.

Am I saying I recommend this? Not necessarily. One of the big mistakes we make is thinking what works for us will work for everyone else. If having nice furniture brings you peace that then lets you live the life you feel called to live, I love that for you. I am warmly jealous of those of you with tidy houses and awesome couches. Still, paper piles and couch triage are what work for me -- at least for now. (A fan of the 3rd Principle of Unitarian Universalism, I believe in practicing acceptance and the growth.)

When my kids were young, we did try to scrub out the occasional sunflower butter stains and fits of markering the cushions. I laugh at that now. In the end, the stains were all that held the fabric together.

My daughter Ace loved to jump from my bass amp onto the couch, like David Lee Roth leaping from a giant monitor onto the stage. My son David cried because he didn't want to give the couch away, even though we inherited a new (to us) sleeper sofa from my mom. It sat in the garage for months, too heavy for us to move inside without help.

UNTIL ONE DAY. FINALLY. In May 2017, I graduated from seminary and I had the energy.

I paid a neighbor and his son to switch the couches and get this one to the dump. Ahhhhhh. You know the feeling what you finally check THAT THING off the to-do list? Glorious. Every year around this time, Facebook shows me this photo, of me waving goodbye to the couch, and reminds me of that feeling.

This couch is 11 years of our life displayed in an object -- fiercely loved, worn out, super duper imperfect, doing the best it can, testifying that it is OK to be where you are. Preaching that not only is it OK to be your funky self but to escalate your funkiness beyond what some people would typically understand. It reminds me I can prioritize what is most important to me, and that I don’t have to rush or sweat the small stuff.

THANK YOU, COUCH! You were a champion. I once sat on you and put my feet up in my messy living room, watching my children play with friends in our backyard, and wrote this little poem, that reads like a prayer of gratitude now.

This is my dream:

I am a house

where the kids hang out,

where I let you in,

in spite of piles and

a markered couch.


About the Author

Erin J. Walter

Rev. Erin J. Walter (she/her/hers) is a community minister, activist, and musician based in Austin, Texas, where she is affiliated with Wildflower (UU) Church. A YMCA director and chaplain until COVID-19 layoffs, Rev....

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