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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Sydney

Trying to fix a mess can make it worse. Just ask my carpet.

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IMAGE: Shutterstock

One of the biggest changes in the Archdiocese of Sydney for 2023 was our office move from the CBD to Leichhardt. The move to our new offices was very welcome for me; not only are the new digs a lot brighter and breezier, the location saves me a good deal of time on the morning and evening commute.

Less than two weeks after the move, I spilled a full cup of black coffee on to the floor of my office, which is covered with beautiful and bright light grey carpet. My horror at the spill turned to relief that it was black and not white. I figured that milk would do much more damage.

I got straight to work, pouring a lot of water onto the coffee stain, hoping I would dilute the coffee with enough water that it would disappear. It didn’t.

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Once the carpet dried, it became clear that instead of a black coffee stain on a relatively contained portion of my carpet, I had a brown coffee stain that covered a much greater area. My attempt to “fix” the coffee stain made matters worse. I ducked out to Coles in my lunch break and bought a bottle of carpet cleaner. It made a small difference, but the dark stain persisted.

A couple of friends then suggested that I should use a mix of baking soda and soda water to get the stain out. Another trip to Coles, a box of baking soda and two bottles of soda water later, the carpet was still dirty and this time, it was accompanied by a nice, crusty layer of dried baking soda. Another friend proposed vinegar would remove the baking soda, so I added that as well. By day’s end, I had a carpet that would have made Pro Hart proud.

The next day, I came into work and saw the stain still as dark and crusty as it was when I left the day before. It was hard not to feel depressed about it because before I even turned my computer on, I was reminded of my failure.

My Pro Hart carpet struck me as a metaphor for our life at times. We make a mess of something, try to fix it, and end up making it worse. We try to make the worse better and sometimes it helps, but often we just compound the problem. If we are lucky, we don’t have to face the mess we’ve made but other times—like in the case of my poor carpet—a monument to our stuff-ups is in our face every day and we cannot help but be reminded of the bad decision (or several) that brought us there.

In those circumstances, it is tempting to beat ourselves up about what an idiot we are and allow it to paralyse us from getting anything else done. But that helps no one. It certainly didn’t help me with the carpet stain. I had a choice to make. I could have either kept investing time and effort into trying to scrub it out, or I could stop letting it distract me and just get on with my actual job.

As we come to the end of another year, I imagine we will all look back and be able to identify the “carpet coffee stains” of 2023: those messes that were created by accident, and where our efforts to “help” only seemed to make matters worse.

My carpet was eventually an easy fix (thanks to our hardworking maintenance and cleaning team who knew what they were doing), but some of the messes of the past year are not as trivial as coffee on carpet. Even so, my prayer for you as we begin the new year is that you won’t allow the messes of 2023 to discourage you from trying to make things better, nor from getting on with the job when they don’t. Happy New Year, dear friends.

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