Saturday, January 21, 2012

Connecting with the past

I’m sitting at my antique desk with my laptop and the distance between them astounds me.  The desk was made by my great-uncle around 1880; over one-hundred thirty years before a nameless bunch of people put together this computer.  I am a woodworker and I appreciate the details of the desk.  I can tell you what kind of tools Uncle Dan had at his disposal.  I can tell you a lot about his character based on the way it was constructed and the finished product.  When I slide my hand across the warm wood with its rich patina, I feel like I am almost touching the man.  When I put my hands on this laptop I feel the hard complexity of an enormous industry grinding away.  Urbanity; conveyer belts, packaging, trucks, retail networks, salespeople - and of course, plastic. 

There is part of me that wants to open one of the little drawers inside the desk and get out a fountain pen, pull some linen paper from one of the slots and write in beautiful cursive script something inspiring.  If not inspiring for the words themselves at least for the art of the medium.  Like books of old with their engraved frontispieces and gilt lettered bindings.  But I want to get this done sometime today.  I don’t have time to be artsy or masterful.  The public awaits and doesn’t really care if there is nothing outstanding or exceptional.  All the added detail would seem unnecessary; just wasted time and space.  Facebook is waiting!  Emails need answered.  There are games to be played and phone calls to make.

I imagine Uncle Dan in his barn-shop.  A loving man, he made a desk as a wedding present for each of his four sisters.  There he is, carefully cutting and shaping wooden boards.  Sanding, inspecting and sanding some more.  Fitting each piece into place; pieces that will fit no other desk.  That have no use but this one.  Gluing, nailing, making corrections, revising the plan as the work progresses.  Taking mental notes about what to do differently on the next one.  Preparing and applying the shellac.  Attaching the pull rings to each of the eleven drawers and four doors.  His labors slow but steady.  The way the desk itself has survived the years.  It just continues to be itself and so Dan continues to be himself.  He had no idea that over a century later I would be writing about him.  But as a result of his many hours of work and my many hours contemplating it – I am a better man.  Not better than he but better than myself.  And if not better at least happier!  I don’t know ol’ Dan’s shortcomings.  They don’t matter.  And my own failings won’t matter as much as I fear.  When I sit at this desk, my heartbeat slows.  My body relaxes.  My thoughts become more cohesive.  Time almost ceases to exist.

OH, CRAP!  I’m going to be late for work!  Catch you later!

1 comment:

Enola said...

I know that desk, I know you. It is faithful and selfless and strong. It has lasted over 100 years because it was made by a creator out of love. You will last as long as you were made to last by a loving creator. Even though an 1880's desk with a 2011 laptop seem so far apart, they really still belong together. The desk to remind us of all that has come before us and the laptop to help us focus on all that is yet to come. Nice blog Greg!!