Monday, August 22, 2011

When No One Else Is Looking

Pick and Shovel
When I talk about my stone projects, I often say that much of my best work is buried.  With mortar-less masonry, proper site drainage is essential, for the cycle of the seasons and the freezing and thawing of the earth can push a wall over.

Few beside the mason ever see the underground work; the neat, hand dug footers; the smooth walled drainage ditches precisely pitched to bed perforated pipe and clean, crushed stone; the large, weighted base rocks, leveled and tightly fitted upon which the wall will rise. I enjoy both the engineering and the asthetics of this part of the construction. 

The building of walls from fields stone is slow, quiet work.  Shovel, pick and metal rake for the foundation; stone-hammer, level, sledge and chisels for the wall itself.  Beside the occasional grunt born of overtaxed muscle, the "tink" of steel on steel or hammer on rock is about as loud as it gets.  You can hear the wind and the birds and if you happen to enjoy the radio, NPR commentators can sound track progress from thirty feet away.  

When an observer compliments my work I am always appreciative, but I know they do not see what I see. They are like novice jazz aficionados, the many tons of neatly fitted stones are similar to the avalanche of notes in a Charlie Mingus composition, breath taking but hardly understood.  They do not feel the pick or the heft of the hammer or share my obsession with level.  They see a wall.  I see individual stones and the partners they are married to. 

For me, writing is a similar endeavor.  I love the sound of words, the way they fit together in a sort of linguistic ballet.  I don't expect my reader to appreciate the process I have gone through.  In fact, the better the piece, the easier it is to overlook the craft I've so enjoyed.  

My daughter Sarah is in the seventh grade.  She excels at academics yet still finds time to enjoy theater, orchestra, choir, swimming, soccer, horse back riding and her goofy golden retriever Bella.  For such a young person the self-discipline she brings to her life is as unique as it is commendable.  

Wednesday evening, as I was pulling dinner together, Sarah said "Hey Pop, want to hear a quote?"  

 "Sure."  I winced, eyes stinging from sliced onion. 

 "The vision of a champion,"  she said distinctly, "is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking."

"Sounds like your old man when he's digging a ditch and waiting for his kids to come help him.   I like that quote.   Whose is it?"

"Mia Hamm.  She's on the US Soccer team."

We then talked a little  about achievement and the work good things take.  We also spoke about the need to pursue things we truly like, so that the effort required to excel is rewarded by the joy in the activity as a whole.  

It wasn't until the next day that I started to think about love.

Love.  I have often felt it is the most poorly defined word in the human language.  To begin with, unlike other nouns,  love can't be written on a tag and hung on something as in:  "Now for our next exhibit, LOVE." It is a word impossibly broad in scope, spanning from the sexual attraction of two people to the benevolence of an all forgiving God.  

Love is something we all seem to want, but unlike an Academy Award or a Super Bowl win, love is something we tend to characterize as a gift or miracle or some type of ethereal manifestation. I mean how often do you hear somebody talk about practicing love, of slaving away at love, or busting ass for love. Quite the contrary, there is sort of a stigma attached to love that says if it doesn't come easy then it just isn't the real thing. 

Why is that?  Is love like a sunny day; a big beautiful feeling completely out of our control?  Or is love something we create or arrive at through action?   

I've got to say, I'm pretty lazy when it comes to love.  I have a tendency to say, "Love me the way I am cause I ain't gonna change a thing."  Maybe that's a good approach.  After all,  as the song says: "there are more pretty girls than one." On the other hand, what other universally acknowledged important thing is obtained in such a cavalier manner?   Even happiness is accepted as being a by-product of other activities.  So how is it that love should arrive like a meteor from heaven when nothing of import seems to be gained in that fashion? 

Maybe, just maybe, love is something that looks like magic but isn't magic at all.  It could be that it arises from a hard-earned, unseen foundation like a beautiful stone wall or through countless sweat-soaked drills that drive in the tie-breaking goal; maybe it is hidden in the moment that a hand reaches down for something as simple as a piece of litter that hundreds of others have stepped past. Maybe love enters our lives the way talent blooms in a virtuoso; behind the scenes when nobody else is looking. 

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