Last week when leaving for work, I had to squeeze by a bunch of construction machinery on my street. As I got closer, I noticed a small crowd of people on the opposite side of the street, taking pictures or just huddled together staring in the early morning cold. Then I noticed what they were gaping at.
Set back from the road and hidden on the approach by the heavy machinery was half a house. The front lay in pieces at its feet as a massive excavator tore down what was left standing. Like teeth on an apple, it softly scraped down the front, taking with it the flesh of a former home.
Sure, I'd seen footage on TV and in movies of buildings being torn down, but to see it in real-life was jarring, to say the least. Mostly, I couldn't believe the ease with which it came apart. It crumbled down like a matchstick house, the cloud of dust being sprayed down by a man with a hose. It just tumbled down, as if it had made its peace with the world and consented to go without a fuss.
I remembered a few weeks previous having seen people emptying the house of hundreds of books, but I had just assumed they were moving. Instead, they were clearing it of anything of value. I wondered whether, in the hours before the metal teeth sunk into the house, someone walked through and touched the candle-wax-covered mantle one last time, leaned into the squeaky floorboard, or turned the doorknob just so, knowing the trick to unstick it. Call me sentimental, but I hoped there was at least that much nostalgia in its departure. I hope someone cried.
To see something so substantial come apart makes one muse on the effort with which it was put together. A few blocks away stood the in-progress house of some friends of ours—its bare walls still itching for paint, the new electricity waiting to illuminate the sawdusted interior—and we'd been watching for months as the puzzle pieces of a home came together. My father was a general contractor, so I know exactly how much time goes into making a house, how many varied raw materials, how many tiny details, how many people with how many assorted skills. Now one man with one machine was undoing it and one man with one hose was erasing its mark on the neighborhood.
The most shocking moment of this scene for me came later that night. Walking to the gym, I passed the site in darkness and saw only the smallest pile of rubble. Even taking into account the cavern of a basement, I was amazed by how little space it took up. It was a stark reminder that it's not the pieces that make a house, it's the way they're assembled and the way that they protect you from the cold or the heat or the rain. It's the people and the items that are sheltered by it that make the physical components of a house seem monumental. In many ways, it's the same with people. It's often not until we see them come apart that we give much weight to what formed them, and we realize how it's much more than mere flesh and bone made them who they are.
Ultimately, how could the message of this be anything but thankfulness? It's that time of year when we take stock of what we have and who we share it with. It's the time of year where we hope to pause and consider with awe the magnificence of the simple blessings in our lives: the many hands who built our homes, the farmers who grew our food, the wonders of the modern age that allow us to commune with loved ones all around the world. It's when we step back and recognize that those things we sometimes take for granted are far from simple and far from owed.
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