This blog is a place for my thoughts, which I suppose goes a long way to explaining my relative silence of late: I’m mostly thinking about renovating the house. When I’m not there working, I’m scheming my next steps, or researching on the internet, or dragging my girls to yet another building supply store (our 3-year old is an old pro at the self-check line at the big-box up the street. She can perfectly imitate the disembodied voice that concludes every transaction, “Thank you for shopping at the Home Depot!”).
Still, my mind sometimes briefly wanders from the work right in front of me to more esoteric matters. Like, for instance, the way in which I almost perfectly imitate my teachers. The main guide for my semi-professional remodeling years was a gruff-but-affable man named Gene. On my first afternoon, when everyone was eyeballing me to see what I knew how to do and what I would screw up by sheer bravado, he asked a loud question, “Mikey (for this was his immediate and enduring affectation) what do you think of country music?”
Quickly calculating that honesty was expected even if not appreciated, I declared my dissent.
“Well that’s too bad, because country music is what we’ll be listening to!” The twinkle was right there in the corner of his eye.
That was about 15 years ago, and we worked together for about 3 years. But now when I look around the jobsite, I see many of the same tools that Gene used, and the same methods employed with them. Especially when I’m hanging drywall. I move with the same pace, measure in the same way, and talk to myself just like he did. But the specific act of cutting sheetrock is when it gets a little spooky: my feet go in the same place, I cut down to about 5 inches off the floor, then reverse the knife and cut up. Lean the sheet out, and carefully set the drywall square on the main stack of drywall. Then I swing the whole sheet toward me, step behind it, snap it back, and cut the backside exactly the reverse: from the floor to about 5 inches from the top, then reverse the knife and cut down while holding the top of both pieces with my left hand. The cut-offs are neatly leaned against the wall at the end of the stack, and the scraps are pitched by the door.
I’ve also been remembering the advice he gave me on my third day: always cut drywall 1/4″ short: “I don’t know why, Mikey-me-boy, but it just seems to grow or something. Cut it a little short, and it’ll fit perfect every time.”
He didn’t need to explain it any more, or implore me to trust him, or even talk about it. Because I was his helper, and he was doing all of the measuring and cutting. There wouldn’t have even been a reason for me to agree with him. But he knew that every time I lifted a sheet into place and it fit, I’d remember. So guess what I do every time I measure for another sheet? I can literally hear his voice in my head, even to this day.
I’ve always compared this kind of apprenticeship to something that many Bible translations call ‘discipleship’: following in the way of a teacher. But lately, I guess I’ve been a little less enthusiastic about that. Because I mean to be an apprentice of Jesus, but I don’t have the benefit of actually following him around, absorbing his teaching, and morphing myself into his way of life. I think that teachings like “love your enemy”, “lose your life”, and “fast in secret” are the kind of counterintuitive koans that work when you follow them– like cutting all of your sheetrock short. Still, I hope it’s not inappropriate to wish that I could see them put into action, and to watch someone else benefit from them. I wish I needed a little less faith, and had the benefit of a little more belief.