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Friday, November 16, 2012

Stopping Short

When my children were small they loved to be a part of creating something, anything really. Early one autumn we built a tree house... well, I should say they built it. I was there to supervise but I allowed them to do all the work. They were very slow and meticulous, measuring each board to be cut and then taking forever to cut it. I had a power saw available but power saws cut off fingers very quickly whereas a hand saw if it slips might cause a scratch or abrasion but nothing more serious.
But more than that, I enjoyed seeing the rapt look of attention on their faces as the labor proceeded; I relished seeing the way they worked together as a team... the oldest one doing the measuring, the middle ones doing the cutting, and the youngest toting the materials from the sawhorse to the tree. They worked until they grew tired and then quit to start again the next day. As they walked away I could overhear them planning amongst themselves what to do next.
Once they had assembled enough wood to build the platform that would serve as a foundation they began securing the boards to the tree, again being very deliberate and laborious. The nails they used were long so it took them what seemed like an hour to drive each one. I wanted to take the hammer from their hands to show them the proper way of driving a nail but I told myself the only way they would learn was to do it themselves.
Sitting there watching them I began thinking of all the things I could be doing, more important things. I thought how I could have jumped in with my power tools and done the work in half the time... even a quarter of the time. I was sorely tempted more than once to do just that. But I stopped short, keeping myself apart from them, only offering instruction when they asked for it and making sure no one attempted anything dangerous.
This all happened many years ago and if memory still serves it took several weeks to complete the project. Each afternoon when I arrived home from work the kids would all be waiting for me in the garage, tools in hand and eager to get started on the next phase. Sometimes their mother would hear my car pull into the driveway. She would come out of the house to say leave your father alone for a few minutes; he just got home. But I would see the disappointment begin to blossom in their eyes so I would tell her thanks but we have a job to do, which of course was the only answer she expected.
I'll admit there were some days when I just didn't feel like sitting there watching. I felt as if everything was taking far too long to complete. Couldn't they nail those nails faster? Couldn't they position those boards more quickly? I wanted to brush them aside and say no, this how you do it, and proceed do the work myself with my big bad power tools in order to get it done more efficiently and quickly.
Despite myself I stayed my desires. I literally forced myself to allow them to complete that project on their own. And complete it they did. Though there wasn't a square corner to be found in that tree house by god it was a thing of beauty. They spent many happy years playing in it and now when the grand kids come to visit they play in it. Their parents tell them proudly how they built it all by themselves. I can still see the light of accomplishment shining in their eyes when they tell the story.
Now that I find myself alone again these memories invade my waking moments and lull me into dreams at night, good recollections and bad. My wife along with my love has gone back to that mystery from which we all spring forth. The children live far away and of course they visit when they can and call on the phone but I know they have their own lives.
These days I am a writer. It isn’t something I choose to do; rather I am compelled to it. I'd rather be sitting in front of a television set. I'd rather be making love with a beautiful woman. I'd rather be drinking and gambling at the casino. I stop short of all that.
Instead I write. I witness how others understand only the trifles of the world and nothing of importance. I see how the clever deceive the innocent. Those who are honored with wealth despise those who live in poverty. The strong take advantage of the weak. This is not the way of the mystery.
One day I decided to write a book, a magnificent book, one that encompassed the whole universe. But my ideas were so grandiose I had no idea where to start. The ideas themselves kept coming and coming until they snowed me under. So I kept putting off writing that book until the day everything became clear.
I saw that I did not have the right to decide to write such a book. The book had to write me. What do I mean by a book writing me? I sit here quietly letting the words fill this page of their own accord. I know if I try and force them into being the words will be all wrong.
When I am troubled the words do not come. My mind must be clear like ice. The world is full of trouble so how do I stop being troubled? I stop short. By not allowing the troubles of the world to pollute my heart it is clear like glass.
One day I poured a cup of coffee. I like coffee so being greedy I filled my cup all the way up. Looking out the window at the tree house built so long ago by my children I raised the cup to my lips. When I took a drink, though, the coffee dribbled all over me. I stopped short. I had a realization that led to the clarity I needed to begin writing that book.
If I fill my cup to the brim, look, I spill when I try and drink. If I stop short I do not leave a stain on my shirt. If I sharpen my knife too long on the whetting wheel it grows hot and loses its temper. Therefore the sooner it will blunt. If I do the work intended for others they will never know the joy of completion.
If I seek to gather a great store of silver and gold I will lay awake at night fearful of thieves. If I lock the doors of the fortress inside my heart I kindle a fire of desire that burns unquenched.
If I seek to climb high up the social ladder I have much farther to fall. Those who I have trampled on the way up will rejoice to see my descent.
Therefore I am content to stop before I am filled. I fade back to nothing when my purpose is achieved. I do nothing and yet nothing is left undone.
This is the way of the universe.
So this is what I write.

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