One of life’s endless fascinations is to get a glimpse into a world that is not, and never will be, my own. (Videos don’t cut it; personal presence is required.) It seldom matters what it is, just that it’s not mine. Glimpses like this are, first of all, intriguing. Often they are humbling–so many have skills I don’t even dream of. Sometimes I learn something.
I was standing on my second floor balcony, over looking a large area where the construction of a new apartment complex was under way. Just across the alley-way, a crew was putting up a retaining wall of concrete blocks. I’d never seen masons at work before, so it was fun to observe. Soon it became obvious that one of them, maybe the foreman, was exceptionally good at it.
When he troweled mortar onto a block, it was always just the right amount—no drips down the wall. Even when he plunked another block on top of the fresh mortar, nothing oozed out. Somehow, he knew—in his very bones—just the right amount of mortar required.
Then there was his rhythm. Reach for the bucket of mortar, load the trowel, lay the mud on the block, reach back and grab a block from the stack, set it firmly in the mortar. Use the handle of the trowel to tap the block into perfect plumb alignment. Begin again. Reach, load, trowel on, reach and grab, set, and tap. Repeat. And never any waste. I watched him a long time. It was a dance, lacking only a stage.
Some days later, I was again outside when this man walked down the alley along the now-complete wall. I called to him. He looked up and paused. I told him how much I’d enjoyed watching him, how beautiful his skill was. He bowed slightly. “Thank you, Ma’am. It took many years.” And he walked on his purposeful way.
Even more than I’d been struck by his masonry, I was now impressed by his dignity. He appreciated my words, he acknowledged his skill, but he had no need to strut. He gave me an example of simple, elegant authenticity. It was only a glimpse, but it formed something new in my soul.