Friday, March 22, 2013

Our Throwaways

As a kid, I loved going into my dad's workroom to try and build something. In my mind, the vision of what I would create with hammer, nails, and wood was magnificent--we're talking seamless symmetry, profound usage ability, all-around-wow-factor. The kind off thing I could bring in for Show and Tell to my second grade classroom with Mrs. Schwartz at John F. Kennedy Elementary School and watch all my classmates gaze and say, Dude, how in the world did Luke actually BUILD THAT?!

The reality of what I made during those workroom visits was, however, much different. One time, I tried to build a wooden rocket ship that would put NASA to shame. Instead, the pieces of my dad's scrap wood that I nailed and wood-glued together ended up looking more like a porcupine that swallowed a sink pipe than a rocket. Bent nails protruded from the thing and glue beaded around all it's edges. It's jagged sides all over could have sliced an onion or two or 343.

And my attempt to paint over these severe lapses didn't much help, either. Rather than make the thing look more like a NASA rocket, the paint had the effect of highlighting each mistake in a new and vibrant color.

So, as my seven-year old eyes examined what I had created and held it against the image of what I had wanted to create before I began working, I picked the whole thing up and dumped it in the trash barrel that sat below my dad's workshop desk.

The next day, it was sitting on top of the desk.

When my dad came home from work at Cigna in Hartford, I asked him how my failed attempt at a rocket made it out of the trash and onto his work desk.

"I love it, Luke, and I'm keeping it right there."

I didn't know what to say in response.

Fast-forward about a quarter of a century to this morning. My own four-year old sits at Jen and I's writing desk in our closet/study, crying. He's holding a piece of paper on which he has drawn airplane windows. He has stapled the end of the paper into a nose, and he has taped various parts of the paper to try and form landing gear.

But the paper has ripped, and the staples are coming out, and the tape is sticking more to itself than the intended plane. And so Tyler's tears are profuse.

"I'm throwing this away because it's all NOT GOOD."

And the tears.

Suddenly, all I can see is the rocket I tried to build so many years ago. The rocket I threw away.

So I pull Tyler onto my lap and I tell him the story of my wooden rocket, and how I thought it was so, so, so, so, SO bad. When I tell Tyler about what Bubba (my dad) did, and how the rocket sat proudly on my dad's workshop desk the next day, Tyler looks up at me through his own wet eyes.



I pick up Tyler's airplane and hold it in my hands. "To me, son, this is beautiful. I love it."

The thing is: Jen and Tyler and I went back home for a visit this past summer. After two years away from America, everything felt new again. The backyard in which I grew up playing kickball and building forts and going on various missions felt oddly soaked with mystery and joy and possibility again.

And when Jen and I and Tyler set ourselves up for a week in my parents' basement, I sauntered into my dad's old workshop.

There, on his work desk sat my wooden rocket. Its nails still offensively bent out at every angle, the paint still highlighting each mismatched side and each bubbling ball of glue.

For the part twenty-five years, my throwaway has been my dad's inspiration.

So often, we make the mistake of thinking that it is only our successes, the images of perfection in our heads, our achievements and our triumphs that are memorable and meaningful. And sometimes, these things are meaningful and memorable.

But sometimes, it's not the image in our heads that matters, but rather that imperfect practicality that works outward from our hearts to our hands. We believe in something, we go for it, we create it as best we can. And should we hold the authentic creation up in front of us and feel defeated because it doesn't match the perfect image, we might do well to remember that our throwaways could end up being someone else's prized visions.

W.B. Yeats wrote in his poem When You Are Old, "How many loved your moments of glad grace / And loved your beauty with love false or true. / But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, / And loved the sorrows of your changing face." I once recited these line to my wife, because I could find no better articulation of what love is. Real love concerns itself not with the perfections we find in one another or in our own creations. Real love is concerned with the pilgrim soul; real love is concerned with loving the wounds in one another, in ourselves, and in the stories we make and live.

25 years later, I am finally proud to close my eyes and see the image of that rocket I built--with its jagged edges and bent nails. Perfection wouldn't have been anywhere near as beautiful, or as memorable.

Today, may we seek to find the pilgrim souls in one another--to love each other not for the precision with which we think, live, or act--but because we've got our own host of jagged edges and bent nails. And may we seek to see our stories through the lens of the pilgrimage we're on rather than the distance between us and an image of success.

I'm thankful that I've now got a beautifully stapled, taped, and marker-drawn airplane on my desk to remind me.