Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Morning with Morrie

Morrie Schwartz, a professor of Sociology who passed away in 1995 of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is recorded to have said in his last days:

"We've got a form of brainwashing going on in our country.  Do you know how they brainwash people?  They repeat something over and over.  And that's what we do in this country.  Owning things is good.  More money is good.  More property is good.  More commercialism is good.  More is good.  More is good.  We repeat it - and have it repeated to us - over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise.  The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what's really important anymore.  Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new.  Gobble up a new car.  Gobble up a new piece of property.  Gobble up the latest toy.  And then they wanted to tell you about it.  'Guess what I got?  Guess what I got?'"  (p. 125 Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom. Doubleday 1997)

I am working outside swapping the tires on the car from the studded, winter tread to the summer.  It's a simple, physical process that involves removing the tire from the rim and remounting the other.  I could take the car into town and have a shop handle it, but it's one of those tasks I prefer to do myself and it allows me time to let the words of something I have read percolate into the crannies of my mind.  What has driven us to become a society of such gobblers?

I break the bead with an old farm jack.  Jacking against the bumper of an old Suburban adds enough weight to crush the tire, sliding the bead down the rim with a sudden whoosh.

Morrie continues with his line of thought.

"These people were so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes.  They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back.  But it never works.  You can't substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradship." (Ibid)

I pry the first bead over the rim with a flat tire iron.  I've seen my father do this many times, and in fact this is the same iron he used on the farm.  It is another one of his tools that I collected last summer when we cleaned out his shop and moved him into town.

"Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness.  I can tell you, as I'm sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you're looking for, no matter how much of them you have."  (Ibid)

I hammer the second bead off the rim, using the prybar as a lever to pressure the tire away from the lip.  A few blows from the hammer and the rim pops free.

"There's a big confusion in this country over what we want versus what we need.  You need food, you want a chocolate sundae.  You have to be honest with yourself.  You don't need  the latest sports car, you don't need the biggest house.  The truth is, you don't get satisfaction from those things.  You know what really gives you satisfaction?  Offering others what you have to give."  (Ibid, p 126)

The summer tire is mounted and I begin to inflate it with air.  The beads snap against the sides of the rim with sharp, metallic pops.

"I don't mean money.  I mean your time.  Your concern.  Your storytelling.  It's not so hard.  Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.  You notice, there's nothing in there about salary.  Do the kinds of things that come from the heart.  When you do, you won't be dissatisfied, you won't be envious, you won't be longing for somebody else's things.  On the contrary, you'll be overwhelmed with what comes back."  (Ibid, p 127-128)

The tires are changed and mounted on the car and all that is left is to clean up.  My back feels a little sore but my heart is light.  Grabbing the last of the tools I walk into the garage and kick off my boots.

Who'd have thought I'd be doing church this morning.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Batons and Breast Drills

This past month I was involved in an interesting conversation with a sibling that explored the idea of what things we inherit from our forefathers and subsequently also pass along to our children.  The discussion may have overstepped some relational boundaries - it suddenly came to an abrupt end - but it did manage to start me thinking about what that inheritance is and what I wish it to look like. 

We can often be convincingly tempted to whitewash history with a rosy brush, especially when aging parents are involved.  And certainly there are many things that we do treasure when we look back on where we came from and what things got us to where we are today.  Traditions, values, religion - all can be important areas of development that we not only cherish, but also wish for our children to assimilate.  Colorful histories, memories of our parents' journeys and their stories all become important foundations to anchor our perceptions of who we are and where we are going.

But as with all things in life, there is always the detritus that must also be identified and sifted.  And that's where the lines begin to fade and we soon find ourselves alienated from each other with fuzzy boundaries on a scary battlefield filled with precipices and powder kegs.  Life is never simple.

So today I chose to focus on something that has tradition, history and inheritable value with complete confidence.  It will get me back onto some safe, solid ground.

It's a two speed breast drill that was probably my grandfather's, although I found it in among my father's tools.  I don't ever remember seeing anyone use it, and the only marking on it is "Jordan Germany."  Not much history can be found about this drill, although there is some information on Jordan Tools to be found here.  

Of course, it needs some work.  The jaw springs are completely messed up, and it's missing its auxillary handle.  But all in all it's in pretty good shape, and I'm excited to get it added to my tool inventory.

Because this is something that I think would be worth passing on to my kids.  And that I hope we can agree on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Bog Chair

Now that the weather has been warming up I have been able to take my coffee out on the deck.  I've been sitting out there sometimes for hours on end noticing the increase in wildlife, but try as I might I have yet to capture any pictures.  I'm hearing at least two new species of songbird as well as seeing a lot of tracks from rabbits, moose, and squirrels.  They're there - just not when I'm there.

At least it's given me a chance to try out my latest bog chair.  There are few furniture projects easier than this; it's simply two boards, one mortised to accept the "spoon" end of the other.  Because of it's simplicity, it's also easily disassembled and stored.

I was initially exposed to these chairs by friends who were living in Africa and had purchased chairs from a local market.  They were constructed of hardwood, intricately carved, and to the best of my knowledge were called "African Birthing Chairs."   Of the many versions you will find on the net, I really like this design and because of their simplicity, I am thinking of building a few more.

But with the current success rate of my photography, maybe I should think of adding cushions.

SPF 2X10, linseed oil/paraffin wax/turpentine finish