What do carpenters talk about on the job site? You might be surprised. The stereotype image of a beer-guzzling, red neck, big-wheel pickup driving guy talking about cars, women, and sports is just that—a stereotype.
Carpenters, and other tradesmen and women, are some of the smartest and most interesting people I have ever met.
For one, I worked with Johnny Garcia, son of a migrant fruit picker, for many years. He “came out from under the grape vines to get away from the snakes, spiders, scorpions, and tarantellas.” Conversations with him ranged from “why is there something rather than nothing” to “why is there any life at all on this small planet we call mother earth?”
Esau came from South Georgia, son of a share cropping family. I used to personally take him to a new job site because he couldn’t read the street signs. But talk about music! He could see music in his mind, compose songs in his head, and wail on a guitar. He brought joy to the job site.
Tom was a black guy studying for his PHD in science at UCLA. He taught me about protons, quantum physics, and black holes. For sure, I still need further education in these topics.
These carpenters, and many others, stirred my own juices to think and talk about more than framing walls, cutting roof rafters, and hanging doors. They made life more interesting, even exciting. At times I felt like I was riding a wild horse (photo) being with them.
Here are a few thoughts on a job-site topic: Why am I here?
THE REASON FOR MY EXISTENCE
Out of the blue it came to me just like the old ones said it would. Solutions to matters of import are seldom found in mathematical equations. They come straight out of the blue. Not a great matter for you maybe, but I wanted to know. Why I am here is basic. What’s my purpose on this bright planet? Why have I been studying, raising children, building houses, teaching students, and writing books? Surely there is a grand scheme to all this toil.
I was sitting on my cushion, as I am wont to do these last twenty years or so, when the answer came. I was watching my mind, being careful with my breath, aware of the birds singing outside. It slipped into this awareness in the tiny gap found between breath and no-breath. That’s the place where wild things happen. Pay attention to the gap say the old ones. If you just see the leaves and not the spaces between, do you see the tree? If you just see the stars and not the dark figures between, do you see the sky? If you just hear the notes without paying attention to the silent spaces between, do you hear the music?
Those who know me remember that I came off the high, short-grass prairies where the only constant is the Wyoming wind. There was never a question about whether the wind was blowing or not. Rather it was about how hard and how cold it blows, coming down across those snow-covered (photo), sagebrush hills. A few old ones still live there, but these days they have warm clothes and warm houses.
I was born in the early 30s, born in an uninsulated rural farmhouse without central heating, wool socks or goose-down comforters. Three feet away from that iron kitchen stove and you were freezing. Whatever the temperature was outside that was the temperature in our bedrooms even when mother warmed the sheets with her flat iron. For the eighteen years I lived there, my strongest memory is that I was always cold. Sure we had those summer days. I would huddle on the lee side of our house and try to warm my deepest parts. The chill never left. I could never get warm “all the way through.”
So I headed out the day high school ended without bothering to attend graduation. The old ones said: “go south.” I went south. And south was a dreamland where the sun shone almost every day. Some years we saw morning frost two or three times. Snow was something you could go visit, miles away, if you wanted. I could feel myself thawing, partially.
I started at the university. I became a carpenter, a navy man, a teacher, a husband, a father, a writer, a runner, a gardener. But the cold was always there, peering from its home base, waiting for its chance to inhabit me again and again. Even as I sit here writing, I can feel the chill in my feet. Long, lean, and hungry looking I am, not much natural insulation on these bones, growing older daily. By the time blood is pumped from my heart down through my long body to my toes it has cooled considerably. Take the guard down for a minute and there will be icicles on my nose.
So that’s what came to me in the gap. I realized that all my efforts, all my struggles, the reason for my existence, has been to do whatever was necessary to keep myself warm. As an old one, I tell this to you.
(Written on a warm September day). Larry Haun