Lately I’ve been preoccupied with the thought that there will come a day when my body will no longer allow me to do all that I want to do. This feeling is always more acute after I’ve moved a lot of boxes and I wake up stiff the next day, or I try to keep up with my daughters playing tag and I get caught out of breath. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being defeatist here. I want to stay as active as I can for as long as I can, but there are moments that remind me I am dust, and to dust I shall return.
My mother was always handy with a sewing machine. Her first job was sewing in a Danskin factory and there were very few things she couldn’t make, fix or mend. For a while she did a lot of sewing on the side to make ends meet, and the only jobs I ever saw her turn away were ones that were beyond the capacity of her sewing machine. This week we moved her into a nursing facility after another hospital trip, because for some reason her body is giving out on her. The capacity of the machine has finally been laid bare.
I don’t want you to get hung up on that thought, because it’s important to call out the fragility of life, but it’s deadly to focus on it. Mortality is a given, but life is the gift (make of it what we may). What I want to say is this: we have what we have and it is what we make of it.
This thought should come easily to a craftsperson. Consider the moments when you have the idea to build a certain thing, but you go to your wood pile and the stock is just an inch too narrow or a foot too short. Perhaps that wide cherry board has a knot in the wrong place, or the walnut has a little too much sapwood. It’s easy to walk away from the pile and not start. It’s easy to decide that you just don’t have what you need. It’s far more useful to spend time with what you have until your imagination works out a path around the limitations.
We all start with rough stock sometimes, but consider for a moment that the elements that make up the complex carbohydrates and polysaccharides in the cellulose of the grain of the wood that you are holding started their journey not simply in the ground, but across the universe, and it seems like a small journey to imagine they might become a table, or bench, or cutting board. We carry the ball for an infinitesimally small amount of time, and yet what we do with that moment matters.
Make something useful today. Make something ugly and then make it better. Make something to give away. Make something for the sake of making something beautiful. Make something just for yourself or someone you love. Make something that improves the world around you. It’s all ashes and stardust anyway, but here and now it is what you make of it.