Okay so I was going to write something profound and enlightening today, but I can’t really put together anything of value in my head, let alone on “paper”. Life is full of really awesome moments or periods of time that when you reflect upon them, to others they may seem ordinary but to you they are extraordinary for they helped define who you are. For various reasons, I won’t get into now, I’ve never been good at remembering things that happened long ago. Rather I can remember how those memories shaped me, but not necessarily the specifics. I make for a dreadful campfire companion for I can never really share a good story but I can conjure the emotion, color, and even the smell in my mind. I’m wound pretty tight and a very emotional person, which is awesome for creativity, vision and optimism (at times) but boy not everything can be a monumental read on life; sometimes cooking dinner is just cooking dinner so to speak.
One of the biggest challenges in life, I feel, is both living life, and realizing those moments that really shape you are happening right there and then. It’s not always possible, at least for me, because to do both at the same time degrades the former to the perceived benefit of the latter. And too often we don’t find the time to think back upon those moments, or maybe we grow apart from those memories and the people in them, or any number of scenarios that “regular” life gets in the way. I’m not here to debate the nuances of all of that, I’m sure one could write a book on the topic. The point is each of us has a unique story that is shaped by the people around us as well as both our individual and collective narrative. And I believe at times we forget, or get too busy, to think about it, instead telling ourselves we’ll look back at those photographs, or memories, or look up that old friend, or call a sibling or parent, next week….or next month…or next year. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy or even possible given all that life deals us, but at the very least it’s worth reflecting on and even if just one box gets checked off that list it’s worth it. I’m not that great at talking, so I try to write. It works for me. Everyone’s different I suppose. At times I try to check off boxes with written words.
My family lost a dear friend (and extended family member) in the past week. Beyond both of our families being close for nearly forty years, I had the honor of working along side him for several years while I was in high school and college. We worked for my brothers as part of a rough framing crew building new homes. Back then I always thought that job was the best incentive for getting a cushy job in a cubicle. I can tell you now that in reality that job was probably the best I ever had. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not going back to doing that anytime soon. The winter’s were brutally cold (I’d work during my school breaks) and the summer’s were brutally hot. The pay was decent, but in hindsight I’d have done it for free given all I got out of it (or given the chance to go back in time and relive those days). When you work on a crew like that everyone does everything, but usually there’s a set of guys who go up on the roof and a set of guys who keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. My friend and I were definitively members of the latter group. He taught me to be a “cut man” which means we would cut the lumber based on the measurements the guys up top yelled down to us. Most of the time I was basically handing up material and helping him out, but eventually I learned enough to be a cut man in my own right, or at least I like to think so. There’s a camaraderie born of working in that environment that I am thankful for having experienced first hand. The lessons I learned by working side by side with him, and all the guys, are ones that have served me well in life: artistry, humor, hard work and a zest for life. Given time I could probably come up with a few stories, but no need for that now. Just know that the color of a clear sky against freshly nailed rafters is the most intense blue hue I’ve ever seen. When I close my eyes I can smell the sawdust and hear the crack of a hammer against plywood. If I’m very quiet I can hear their laughter in my mind. We were young men in our teens, twenties and thirties who had the world in the palm of our hands, even if it didn’t seem that way at the time. If you could look back I swear you’d see us glowing. I can’t recreate that, not anymore at least. That’s the irony of life. All that can be done is remember fondly those days, and thank god that they were real and cherish their memory forever. And, for me, appreciate that I am the man I am today in many ways because of it.
I still have my tool belt from those days. And on warm summer evenings (fireflies thick in the air dancing beyond the open garage door) or sunny weekend days (with my kids playing in the yard), when I’m working on some project on my home, I put the belt back on. It’s a little bit tighter now. No one else is around, it’s not like the old days, I’m on my own now. But there isn’t a piece of wood that I’ve cut since those days that I don’t think about my friend or our crew or those days.
This is but one story. I am but one random guy. Our collective history is filled with a nearly infinite number of these stories, each as precious as the other. There is beauty in the mundane aspects of life as much as the spectacular moments. And they all shape us. Enjoy them, share them, treasure them. If you have something you’ve been meaning to do, then go out and do it. If you have something you’ve been meaning to say, then by all means say it. Telling yourself you’ll get to it later, or it’s too difficult really isn’t an option if it’s something important.