I think what keeps you young is learning a little something new about yourself as you age. I, for example, have discovered my inner four-year-old (boy). I am a construction junkie.
Behemoth of a building
I came by this knowledge quite by accident. For many years now I have begun many workdays staring at the side of a behemoth of a building.
It was an old school, built nearly 100 years ago and empty for at least a decade and a half. Long after the last school bell had rung, the vandals and vermin had made it their playground.
Crumbling interior and shattered windows multiplied annually and the term “eyesore” was beginning to come up. The building had long ago outlived its usefulness.
Because it is a government building and everything has to be done by the book, we spent an interminable time watching the building be tented and abated for lead, asbestos, and for all I know, chalk dust.
It was like a space scene over there. Men in white suits traipsed in and out daily while an air quality monitoring specialists lurked about to lasso any errant dust motes that might escape.
More than one lifelong resident was heard to remark, wryly, that it was just a wonder he survived 13 years of education in that building unscathed.
Finally, the men in their moon suits with their monitors and their readings departed. There the building sat. Still decrepit. Continuing to crumble.
It sat as we awaited the endless slog through architect’s plans, reports and more plans. Apparently, it takes as much, if not more, time to tear down something than it did to build it up.
I suppose this is good as it certainly prevents any hasty decisions. The building greeted each day with vandal-shattered windows winking in the sunlight.
Then one happy day when I had simply accepted the building would, in fact, outlive us all, the demolitionists arrived. In a flurry of activity and cloud of dust came the heavy equipment.
To us this was monumental. They were nonchalant. They set to work as if it was just another day at the office as we watched, amazed, at the removal of a landmark of nearly 100 years.
Over the space of a week the entire community gathered to watch the carnage. Cameras in hand they stood on the lawn and reminisced. Watching the progress as the machine slowly devoured the structure, bite by bite.
Having never attended the school, my sentimental attachment to the place was negligible. Instead, I became completely enamored of the equipment.
Reaching out to tear great chunks of brick and metal and wire. Sifting elegantly through the rubble to pull out the salvageable and the valuable from the wreckage. Swinging back and forth over and over as it plowed through nearly 100 years of collective, communal memory.
I brought my children to watch the spectacle but found myself more captivated than anyone. I came to think of the machine as having a life all its own.
Once, commenting on how nimbly such a big ol’ thing could pick out the tiniest scrap of something precious, my son was moved to say “Mom, you know there’s a guy running that right?” Still, I was enthralled.
The slam and crunch and dust of it all it somehow very cathartic. A lot like breaking plates — but on a much grander scale.
I can’t fathom why every child in America doesn’t want to grow up to run such a marvelous machine. As for me, all I can think of is the years I wasted on Barbie dolls when I should have been playing with Tonka toys. Who knew?
In no time the pile of rubble and a gaping hole was restored to the nearly pristine purity of 100 years ago. Dirt. Straw. Done.
Soon the grass will grow and it will be as if the building never even happened at all. All will be healed. Restored. A clean slate.
Metaphor for life
It’s a lot like a metaphor for life that way.
I think sometimes the wreckage of living gets a bad name. We think of loss. Destruction. Chaos and upset. We forget that out of great messes can come great beauty.
That sometimes removing from our lives that which is no longer useful is far more beneficial than clinging to a past that no longer serves our needs or suits us well.
That sometimes it is what you take away that leaves you most restored.
Sometimes life builds you up and sometimes life tears you down. It’s easy to feel like you are just a cog in the machine. To feel that you can’t clean up from the mess that’s been made.
When (not if) you find yourself in that position, try to remember that from great wreckage can come great beauty. It also pays to remember that it’s not all on you. That there really is “a guy running that, right?”