Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Reflection on Summer

     Summertime, I understand, is most people's favorite time of year.  I've never been one much inclined to that belief. I prefer the crisp fall air to the burning heat.  I love the quiet stillness that envelopes the world when winter lays a downy blanket of snow on the ground.  I relish the promise of life in the budding green of spring.  Summer has always struck me as a time to endure the baking of the sun.
     This summer has been an exception for me.  Maybe if I wanted to wax philosophical, I would stop to ponder that now I am solidly in the "summer" of my years, but I don't know that I want to swell on that. Whether or not that plays a part, I have enjoyed this summer.  It has not been excessively hot or dry.  I have spent more time than I usually do with my family.We have had some good times this year to be certain, but I think that something else has been happening to me.
     This has been a summer where I feel like I have become more creative.  I mean this in the literal sense.  It has been a season of making and doing.  I have gotten myself less entrenched in the virtual world that so often sucks me in and more involved in the real.
     It started with the bees.  Beekeeping has been very therapeutic to me. There is something magical about bees. The ritual of lighting the smoker and gathering up my tools, of donning my suit (although I have mostly abandoned that, preferring to work my hives unencumbered), of approaching the hives and watching the girls darting in and out of the hive in there incessant business. I enjoy the electric hum of life rising out of the hive when I lift off the lid. I really enjoy prying out the frames and looking for new eggs and growing larva.  I smile when I see the frames of honey filling up, anticipating its sweetness come harvest time.  And as I watch a hundred thousand bees in their ceaseless toil,  I can't help but wonder if this is not in some way how God views us.
     This summer has also seen my first successful attempt at gardening.  Now, I know I am a far cry short of a master gardener, but for the first time our freezer is stocked with bags of frozen veggies. I bought a pressure cooker and took up canning. As a child I would help my parents and grandparents pick and snap green beans. The work was monotonous, and yet the time I spent with my family was the kind of quality time that seems to be nonexistent today. Unfortunately, I have not had much success convincing my own family of the great benefits of bean snapping.  I however am finding that I really enjoy the time picking and snapping beans.  Sure it's hot and uncomfortable and leaves my middle aged back aching, but looking at a shelf stocked with quart jars full of home canned beans gives me such a sense of accomplishment.  And yes, they really do taste as good as I remember them tasting as a child. Now I know why I never liked the taste of beans from a grocery store can.  There really is no comparison.
     Then there was the kitchen table.  Karlye had been wanting a new one for quite some time. When my friend Mark Scribner built one, I knew that I wanted to do the same.  My grandfather had been a carpenter. I remember longingly looking at his tools as a small boy.  He died far to young, and I never learned from him. (I recently learned that he stubbornly refused to take his coumadin, which most likely contributed to his sudden death.  As a physician that really saddens me.) I feel like God provided a replacement grandfather for me this summer in the form of a 90 year old gentleman named Mel Taylor.  Mel has been a wood worker and teacher for 70 years.  When he moved into an assisted living facility several years ago, he donated his tools, along with his incredible expertise, to a group of men in our church. Every day Mel is at the woodshop, still teaching and still creating.  He seems at least 15 years younger than his true age. When I asked him if he would help me build a table, he not only agreed, he almost seemed passionate about the project.
     Within a day he showed up at my office with patterns cut out of parchment paper taken from the assisted living center's kitchen.  He had 4 designs in mind and wanted Karlye and I to decide which we thought we would like the best.  He went with me to a lumber mill and hand selected the rough cut lumber we would use.  He promised me that on my next day off, he would work with me to plane out the boards and cut the pieces.  Two days later when I showed up to start work, he and his troupe of woodworking disciples had already cut out most of the pieces and started gluing them together.  I watched in awe as his aged but nimble hands (the right one is missing 2 fingers) turned out the legs for the table and benches on the lathe.  My role was to watch and learn, and sand. My oldest son Will came along to help.  Together we sanded for hours. It was great to see Will so enraptured with learning as we saw the table coming together.  Mel even let him turn a wooden pen on the lathe.
    Once the table was done, I took it home and spent the next two weeks sanding more, scraping out the glue marks, and staining the wood. It felt good to be making something with my own hands. I woke up early one Saturday before the rest of the family was stirring and went out to work on the table. I heard a voice and turned around to see Mel carrying a big air compressor and air hose into my garage.  He was getting everything set up to spray the table with polyurethane. He spent the next 30 minutes instructing me on the finer points of using a scraper to make sure I had no imperfections in the stain.  I'm just glad I chose not to sleep in that morning.
     Now that the table is in place in the kitchen and has been broken in, I can't help walking past it without stopping and regarding it with a little bit of pride. I know I did very little of the actual building of it. Without Mel, and Mike Cook, and Larry Anderson, the table would not look anything close to how well it looks, if it even existed. Still though, I had a hand in creating something solid and real. I like to think that someday my grandchildren and great grandchildren will gather for dinner around that table, and in that room through my descendants and that table, I will have left my mark on the world.
     But now the summer is wrapping up and fall is quickly approaching.  School has started up.  I took my little girl to kindergarten this week. She is so small and yet so grown up. It has all happened far to quickly. On the second day of school I was walking her to her class, letting her lead me to show me that she could do it on her own.  She was holding my hand and chattering the whole way down the hall.  Suddenly she stopped and looked at me smiling as she let go of my hand. "You don't have to hold my hand any more" she said.  Those words stopped me dead in my tracks. I was overwhelmed with a twinge of sadness and a gush of pride. I had a glimpse for a moment of the not so distant future and a day when I would have to hand her off to some other man, trusting him to take care of her. It was the first realization for both of us that she is growing in independence. We continued on down the hall separated by just a few inches that now seemed like miles to me. She continued talking away, overjoyed by the thought of "big kid school".  Thirty seconds later she unconsciously reached up and took my hand again and I breathed a sigh of relief.  For now she was still my little girl. Then she saw her classroom and without looking back sprinted off to the adventures that awaited within.

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