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this is livin'!It was a fall day just like today about 8 years ago when I had a very memorable encounter with an irrepressible chimney sweep named Victor.

We needed to have the chimney cleaned in our new home and were lucky to have Victor’s business, Copperfield Chimney Sweeps, recommended to us. Victor is a local guy, with kids in the same schools as ours and a big heart for his work.

I’m not sure how tall Victor actually is, but I remember him as suuuuper tall (6″5″ or thereabouts) with a skull cap on and covered head to toe in soot. He was the picture of a David Copperfield-era Dickensian character. This guy had a quality of magic and theatre about him.

Victor started assessing things right away and as a natural teacher he excitedly shared with me the inner workings of our fireplace, chimney, and flue. He simultaneously waxed poetic about the physics of oxygen, fire, smoke and ash. He was genuinely disappointed and perplexed that certain parts of the fireplace were missing and unattended to–Jeremy and I had had no idea about what to do with a couple of things that had just fallen off one day, so had placed them casually downstairs–and wondered aloud about the lax attitude of homeowners these days. Guilty as charged. ( :

I had awoken that morning under the shadow of my fall lethargy. I was annoyed by the many aspects of our home that I wanted to change and upgrade. I was fighting a mood of restless dissatisfaction, facing the months of indoor living ahead of us with great discontentment. And this is where Victor stepped into an unexpected role…

When we moved into our home, it came with a bronze-y fireplace front that did not suit our design aesthetic. But, uninformed as we were, we had assumed that it was necessary to the fireplace’s functioning. Since we couldn’t afford to change it out, it had remained in place for a couple of years. I did not like it, but I figured we were stuck with it for a while.

bronze fireplace doors

Style of fireplace doors when we moved in

Partway through his appointment, Victor surprised me by turning his attention from the technical aspects of the fireplace to the aesthetics of our space. Victor vented for a few moments about the aforementioned bronze-y fireplace fronts–apparently added to houses all over Minneapolis neighborhoods by some scientifically-uninformed architect, who clearly didn’t understand that fire needs oxygen–and he was genuinely indignant. He ended his speech with these definitive instructions: “If I were you, I’d take this thing right out and throw it onto your lawn.” And then he shocked me even further: “Talk about your bad feng shui. Get rid of this front…and look at the way that the energy immediately flows so much better.”

fireplace after

Our fireplace after its update.

So I gave him the go ahead to rid our living room of the horrid fireplace front. The deed was completed in less than 2 minutes and he was of course, completely right. He also suggested that what we needed to add was a simple fireplace screen. He quickly pointed out that I shouldn’t even bother with something functional from a hardware store, but to “go straight to Pottery Barn” for my purchase so that I would find something appropriately attractive. Honestly: Who would expect a Pottery Barn fan in a soot-covered chimney sweep? 

But there was to be even more. By this point I had already received much more value than I had anticipated. Not only was I getting my fireplace and chimney thoroughly cared for, I was benefiting from undeniably solid interior design expertise. And I was having fun, absorbing Victor’s infectious + upbeat approach to his work.

Victor then paused and openly admired the vista through our home’s front windows, looking out at the wide passageway and majestic old trees offered by the view of Park Avenue from our perch on the hill. He listed out the many lovely qualities of our home, and–though I had not uttered one word reflecting my discontentment–pointed out how many people would absolutely love to inhabit our space.

And then with arms spread wide he said the words that have echoed in my mind so many times since that day:

“This is livin’!”

Indeed, it was. And continues to be.

Victor has returned at least once since for a chimney checkup and I enjoyed reminding him of his unique first visit to our home. I am quite sure that he doesn’t remember the experience in the same way–perhaps he never repeated those words to anyone else ever again–but for me, it was exactly what I needed to hear. What a beautiful lesson I received from one of God’s unexpected messengers that day.

My discontentment vanished. Not permanently, certainly. But to this day I cannot think a dissatisfied thought without remembering the message delivered to me by Victor that day.

with love, Rachel