In the general confessions, there is a lament for what I have done and also what I have failed to do. In everyone’s life, there is some beauty projects sitting on the side that are rainy day kind of stuff. Not pressing, but waiting for down time. In the average modern life, down time can be pretty rare, even non existent. So the list of want-to-do but failed-to-do can be pretty large. They can be as pedestrian as a fishing rod you bought to go fishing with your kids. Although I tried to spend decent amounts of time with my kids, a lot of that time was spent keeping them entertained, safe, and fed. That meant not a lot of time on the side for details. So things that required some prep were left wanting. I can see some rocket kits I bought and intended to put together with my kids still sitting in the storage room after twenty years. They are grown up now. The next chance I may get to build rockets are with grand kids so that project is still parked.
What else is parked? Beauty projects that I saw great wood for that I wanted to use, but had not the venue, time, or space to accomplish. Most of them I cut the wood down, dressed it, and did some preparatory work. Then it got lost in the same thing that makes socks get lost in the dryer. Life. Life calling us to do lots of mundane things that take up our time alongside of all the necessary work.
We had a hot water boiler explode and that was a good thing because it meant unearthing a time capsule of storage - bundles of wood allocated into piles that never progressed. While the hours seems to tick by like Chinese water torture at times, there is also that saying… “Where has the time gone?”. I don’t know. I just know that it won’t come back.
What I am left with is a pile of “incompletes”. God forbid that you croak and someone has to sift through your life grading you. Incomplete. Incomplete. Incomplete. Failed to launch. I can see the frown of a school Ma’am looking down at me through horn rimmed glasses, lips pursed in exasperation. I should have known better. More like, I DID know better, but my humanity got the better of me.
Good use of time is a thing. You can waste a lot of it on Netflix and the like. In my case, I spend an inordinate amount of time making cross comments on newspaper threads about current events and politicians I don’t like. My wife cautions me that I must be on a list by now for “enemies of the state”.
I got out some of those things to do today. Taking stock of the list. Some are those bigger woodworking items. If you had a bucket list of things to build, these are the beauty projects. Nice to do but not necessarily a place or a use for them. Anyone have need of a good solid wood dresser, Shaker style? I may have to wait until all my kids move out and need such things, assuming they want my style of furniture or place any premium of things built by me, or built of solid wood. An eldest daughter has already removed a bunch of furniture items from storage. I hope that trend progresses, where need meets want. I want to make nice things, I want to try one of everything just because, and I want some things left behind in my name where people pass by and say “Look at that beautiful wood. You couldn’t buy that at the store!”
Such comments have encouraged my wife to so far keep some of those things I peck away at. She is a reluctant partner in this kind of making. Some things she pronounced junk sat in the basement for a long time until I put a finish on them and they were suddenly beautiful. When passers by praised them as rare and wonderful, she began to like them. Such pronouncements give me hope, that my wife will see some use in my hobbies, and that my efforts are not in vain for those things I would LIKE to do, God willing and given the time.
In the 90th Psalm, (the only one written by Moses), he states wisely: “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.”
Perhaps not-so-odd is the conversation he is having in his head. It is the kind of thoughts all of us entertain, here and there when we have some reminders. Actually he is having his inner conversation with God, who will ultimately be the best judge of how we have, or have NOT made good use of our very short time on this earth. Now that is a chilling thought. It’s not just us. We will be judged. Our lives will also be assessed by those we leave behind. God forbid they smile and say. “My, he sure wasted a lot of time on Netflix!!”
I have failed to do lots of things it seems. Perhaps I have cut off more than I can chew, but maybe not. If I am organized, and don’t clutter my mind with everything at once, I can hit at that unfinished list with some intent and make some progress. There are some truly beautiful bucket list pieces, cut out but not assembled that need that extra hit of attention and time that I never got before. It has set me somewhat out of rhythm so that now when I actually DO have time on my hands, I have to learn all over again not to waste it.
Things take time. More like, they take time that is down time so that you can focus and actually USE your time. It’s a one-step-ahead-of-the-other kind of thing. You have to be organized in your thoughts and not crowd yourself, to be somewhat empty on your schedule in order to be truly productive.
A ninety year old woodworking in Milton taught me some things about this. His daughter was selling off his wood stash. It was comical. He loved wood. GOOD wood. He had it sequestered away for a rainy day. “Come on inside the house and have a look!” said his daughter. She pursed her lips when I saw the pieces of lumber laid down in the hallway waiting for a project. She opened a closet. Again, bundles of wood waiting to be processed into something useful. I felt guilty raiding this man’s bucket list. Still, there was a balance. For all the things he didn’t get to yet, there was a one-of-everything sitting there in his house. He showed them to me with pride. Cabinets, tables, chests of drawers with hand cut dovetails. It seems he had been productive. It also seems his hobby had kept him healthy, as he loaded up sturdy piles of lumber and carried them over his shoulder to my car. Maybe I should not lose hope. Perhaps alongside of all that inner scolding, I can actually also get some things done to balance it all.
Voddie Beaucham, my current favourite preacher has noted that life is best invested in three things: truth, beauty, and goodness. Dedicate yourself to true and worthwhile things. Make some things beautiful, and invest in goodness. Those are the things which will last. It’s more than just good advice. Such hard truth is an inoculation against waste. They are also an indictment against our consumer culture that tells us the most important thing in life is to have fun and more importantly, to buy stuff. It reminds me of the rich fool from the book of Luke (chapter 12) who piled up a storehouse of treasures to enjoy. “The ground of a certain rich man produced an abundance. So he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, since I have nowhere to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and will build bigger ones, and there I will store up all my grain and my goods. Then I will say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take it easy. Eat, drink, and be merry!” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. Then who will own what you have accumulated?’’
We seem to go through life harbouring the illusions of that fool. We imagine that we are invulnerable, until something like a global pandemic comes along and reminds us that some day God is going to burn down this popsicle stand and replace it with something much better. Meanwhile we are left to contemplate the value of time, and how to use it best - and most importantly, what things might last.
I get a kick especially, out of using rather humble domestic wood and turning it into something of beauty. It’s a value added equation that comes from time and diligence invested. Common construction lumber, otherwise known as two-by-fours, can yield some good wood if you give it some love. You have to cut around knots, and then let the beauty of the wood shine through. Today I sanded and put a coat of finish on a desk I made for my second daughter out of two-by-four lumber. Sanding and finishing kicks it up a notch. What once was humble is made to shine once smoothed out with a beautiful finish. SPF (spruce/pine-fir) lumber can end up looking like maple. It is useful AND beautiful now.
What would I really like? I would like that my life leaves behind a trail of useful thoughts, learnings, and some objects of beauty that all give evidence that I was here. It’s called a legacy. The opposite, is to have lived and died, and no one can figure out what you were here for, because you ate, drank, had fun and died like a dog. You did not bequeath any trail of wisdom for others to pick up, no skills you passed on, no love you invested in that will leave you fondly remembered. Most of all I want physical things that are not going to end up on the curb. I want what archeologists say when they sweep the dust away from some antiquity and say, “WOW, we had better keep this on record.”
In the face of modernity, I would like to be a net producer instead of just being a consumer. I would like to move that bar forward - being useful, and creating some beauty. On that list of incompletes, I would like to cross off at least one thing today. Finished. Out of the picture. No longer there for me to look at and have to think about. Too many of my days have been frittered away in the have-to-do’s. Now I have to concentrate on some of the nice-to-do’s while there is yet time. I would hate to get an “incomplete” at the end of it all.
So let’s thank God for broken water heaters and all other things which do not last. They give us a timely reminder to take care of the kind of things which do.