There is this construction site that the kids and I drive past each day on our way to school. It’s small, really, just a new building that will fit a few offices and a bit of parking. The kids, though, have been keen on watching each step, narrating the construction day by day. One day it was just a fairly nondescript corner lot with odd patches of trees, and the next the bulldozers were there forming the earth, pushing mounds of dirt around the way the kids play in the sandbox. Just like that – no more trees.
I have to admit that I have been taken by this work, too, and here’s why, I think: I am captivated by the inch-by-inch, step-by-step work of watching this building be created. This seems a bit ironic to me – after all I’m married to a carpenter, and this very type of work is our bread and butter. He leaves his work boots behind, though, each night as he steps into the shower to wash the drywall dust out of his hair. Around our dinner table, I hear about wall angle and ceiling grid; I know about the importance of 1/64th of an inch, especially when it’s stretched out over 100 feet or so. But these words still end up being fuzzy pictures in my head, and the resolute concreteness of these things he builds stays with him at work.
So here are the kids and I, making up the names to the fancy work trucks and big construction rigs, oohing and aahing over the real progress that we see on our commute. We’re watching steel beams hanging from big cranes being fished around by a guy sitting on another steel beam, and this structure keeps getting bigger and stronger. Sometimes it takes seeing things with the kids, through their questions and their astonishment, to really see. We’re puttering here, at a red light, watching a minute longer and I can’t shake the feeling that we’re witnessing something huge here. I’m not just talking physically big, though that is undeniable, our station wagon turned ant-like by the mass of the dump trucks. I mean something harder to name, an allusion to the bigger picture.
I think I mean building a life; constructing a family, a marriage, a home. I don’t know anything about welding, but I’m guessing that’s how those steel beams get connected to each other. Then, in turn, these steel beams support this great big building. I don’t know about all the intricacies that are hidden behind the finished sheet rock walls, but I know that there is a maze of electricity, tunnels of duct work and piping that are crucial to the finished product of this building. It’s the veins and arteries for this structure. In carpentry, it’s important to recognize when things are getting a little crookedy, and though it is disheartening, it’s knowing when to take a pieces apart and build it back up again. In order for this structure to be useful – as an office, a warehouse, a grocery store, whatever – it first needs to be constructed well. It needs to be built, piece by piece, no detail overlooked, no step hurried or skipped over. And I know that this, too, is the story of my family, my marriage – my life.
Here’s the thing: just like I overlook the sawdust-creating process of constructing a building, I know that I fail to notice the gritty work of creating that which is far less tangible. How many times do you walk down the corridors of your office and contemplate the steel that holds you up? Do you wonder about the insulation and the plumbing, the stones that hold it all in? Similarly, I know that I hardly ever give thought to the foundation, structure and diligent piece-by-piece life-building all around me. It’s not so glamorous, is it? Sometimes it looks like making dinner, every night, feeding their bellies, but so much more than that. Sometimes it’s sitting at the kitchen table, running through the alphabet, the multiplication tables, the state capitals. Sometimes it’s holding your tongue, offering grace and love and forgiveness. Mostly, it’s about doing the work. Just like these hard-hat clad guys show up and do the work, putting their time in and getting it right, there will be something to be show for it all in the end. Unlike construction, though, in life it can take a while to see the bricks and mortar, the drywall and spackle, take real shape.
Mark spent many years working at the Philadelphia Airport, building what was at the time a brand new international terminal. It was big project, and I know there were times when he thought the work would never come to an end. I’ve been to the airport with him, since that time, and the terminal is beautiful (though I became painfully aware of how in-need of a face lift the rest of the airport was!) Mark showed me around, winding me through corridors and pointing high to the ceilings, telling stories of his labor. But there is this one place, right by the window down low, that stands out in my mind: clear as day, if you’re looking in the right spot, are my initials carved teeny tiny into Mark’s handiwork.
And somehow, I know, that this is how we’re building our life together.