Lately, I work with my hands a lot. This desire to create — to feel the musty soil responding to my hands as I bury a bulb beneath the dirt; to cut fresh meats, vegetables and herbs and place them in a simmering pot of broth; to feel a nail sliding through a piece of wood at the command of my hammer– feels primal. It feels like a need. I am almost compelled to put my hands to work making “something” daily.
I work in my head most of the time, with law and words, abstract ideas. Initially, I thought this, not-entirely new, desire stemmed from a need to do something concrete, something that I could literally put my hands on, something that would have a solid end result, unlike the work I was absorbed in daily. But, that wasn’t it.
I didn’t immediately associate this desire to be hands on with the loss of my child, although it did occur to me that I was, obviously, striving to create in the face of destruction. While this notion seemed to strike a spark of truth, it wasn’t the idea itself. There was more to this need, but I couldn’t quite fan the flame of the spark into a complete idea. I just knew I needed to do this, work with my hands, and I knew it was good. The more I cooked, grew, and fixed, the more I wanted to do it. It felt good. It felt honest and real.
Then, one day, as I was driving along an old country road, I saw this beautiful antique dresser that had been re-purposed into a bathroom vanity. It was old and cracked. The plumbing needed to be completely replaced. The faucets were old and corroded. The wood needed to be refinished and sealed. Someone had, apparently, tried to re-purpose this beauty and had given up.
The dresser/vanity seemed to beg me to take it home, so I bought it. I have no carpentry skills. I don’t even have tools to complete the necessary repairs, but I decided to embarked on this endeavor. Every evening, I worked on my new project. I sanded, stained, varnished, nailed, replaced, and sanded again. a layer of sweat covered my body and the smell of the varnish filled my senses as I worked on the task of restoring this piece of furniture. I got lost in the process. Still the answer eluded me – why?
One evening as I was scowling through Facebook, I saw a random post from a friend that discussed the idea that “Things Fall Apart.” Her idea was, when we put our hands into something, when we create from our sweat and physical labor, we are rebelling against the natural and unfortunate truth… that things fall apart. Ah-ha! The spark, finally, became a flame. When the idea fully formed, for me, it was a full-blown fire!
I understood that when I was fixing, mending, cooking, even mowing grass, I was thumbing my nose at the destructive forces of the universe. I was creating, even though I knew, more so than most, that things will — inevitably — fall apart. Somewhere, sometime, at some point unremarkable, without even knowing it, I slipped out of the stream of despair and into an opposing current, one full of life and creation. In fact, I was swimming right against the stream that had almost drowned me; I was rebelling. I was living.
I’m still refurbishing my old vanity. It is one of a kind. There is not one other like it in the world, and I made it or, at least, I am in the process of making it. And, I believe, it is in the process that the truth lies. It is in the act of doing something, anything, to place ourselves in opposition to that horrible truth, that things fall apart, that we discover what it is to be human, to live in spite of death, to create, knowing, full-well, that what we make will inevitably be destroyed. The point is that we strived, and we did not give up. We were not defeated.