Friday, May 13, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Progress

Photo Credit: Jared White Photography

We spend a lot of time building. Most of life is about building something; a life, a career, a resume, experience, knowledge, an empire. We see building things as a sign of progress, an attempt at making things better, a way to conquer ignorance, or earn more money, or provide a future for children you have or hope to have.

We are all architects and engineers of our own design.

Most of what we spend time building are walls. We construct houses to keep out the elements, reinforce doors and windows to keep out thieves at night. We build fences around our lawns to define what is ours and ensure our privacy. We work in cubicles designed to give us our own “space,” to hang pictures of our children and set our hand painted coffee mugs that hold pencils and pens. These spaces are sacred.

When our hearts break for the first, and second, and third times, we build walls around our heart to protect it from possible trespass. Maybe these walls are little at first, but time adds mortar and experience adds bricks and before you realize what’s happened there’s a six foot wall in front of you and you don’t remember consciously building it but there it is just the same. And you’re not sure how to take it down or if you even want to, so you don’t. That wall feels safe somehow. You come to love that wall and feel safe within its shadow and you spend so much time caring for that wall it becomes one with you and you with it.

We build walls of Coach purses and Jimmy Choo shoes, plastering the gaps in the drywall with labels and dollar signs and rings with many facets; sports cars and boats and flat screen TV’s, man caves and pool tables and high end Italian leather shoes imported from Florence. These walls travel with us protecting us from the negative impressions of others, keeping us safe from the fear that we won’t measure up. Or that we don’t belong. And it’s proof that we’re building something big.

We live our lives and make more money and build more walls to define our space and we sit in our private backyard around private pools and bask in thankfulness that we can’t see our neighbor’s ugly back porch. Because our neighbor doesn’t value space like we do, clearly isn’t building success like us. We toil in cubicles making money for the corporation who signs our paychecks and we hope that making more money for the company will earn us a larger cubicle with more space to call ours. Where we can have more privacy and be even more productive.

And the walls around our heart make us stronger and independent and those are two traits we admire and respect so we search for someone to love us who is also strong and independent. Who doesn’t want to love someone who is strong and independent? We assume this common ground will be ties that bind us together, but all it really means is that someone picked up their wall and set it right next to yours. You chisel away tiny holes in the brick and mortar for communicating and holding hands, but you both keep those walls erect because you remember what it was like when you were 13 or 28 and your heart broke into a million pieces and you were humiliated. But now that you found someone with a wall just like yours who is strong and independent, that can’t possibly happen to you again. And if it does, well, you’re prepared.

The problem is that after awhile you look around your well-planned space, the space you own, the walls you built, the perfectly manicured yard and realize:

You’re all alone.

And you don’t like it.

For all the space, and notoriety, and social class, and money, and stuff you’ve gathered and built over the years the only thing you’ve really earned is loneliness. You couldn’t possibly know that your next door neighbor also struggles with depression like you do, or that your co-worker is battling cancer just like your wife, or that man who lives behind you has a solution to the sump pump in your basement that is never working during a rainstorm. Your basement floods and ruins your precious things because he doesn’t know you need a sump pump and you don’t even know his name.

Because the walls are too high and we’re all too busy toiling behind them trying to keep others out of our personal space and earn more money so we can build more walls so we can point to our products and say, “Look what I did. Isn’t that something?”

But we realize that we need some kind of contact; our loneliness drives us to finally seek company, but because the walls proliferate and they are thick and heavy to move, we refrain from tearing down a wall and meeting the person who’s sitting an arms length away and instead we reach out online. We find people that help fill our emptiness with time which is what we have, but not our space which we don’t have, and besides that these time-people require less effort.

Virtual communities open up before us and there is safety in knowing these millions of people here on the computer because they can’t hurt us and can’t judge us and we don’t feel ashamed of our clothes or our hair or our dirty minivans because they can’t see us and don’t know us anyway. This companionship offers the best of both worlds; convenience and community when we’re seeking company, and peaceful solitude when we’d like to be alone. No guilt. No repercussions. No expectations. The push of a button turns the interaction on and off at our will.

We think we finally have it all! We have the walls we’ve built and the things we own and the space we’ve created and now we’re not lonely anymore because we’ve got virtual relationships and a place to play cards, and forums to join where we can meet people from all over the world In fact, we fall asleep at night feeling like we have hundreds of friends indeed.

But we don’t. Not really. We have words on a screen and an idea in our heads and perhaps an avatar representing someone’s ideals of themselves, but it’s all smoke and mirrors and we know it.

So we drink. Or get high. Or smoke cigarettes. Or eat a gallon of ice cream with a spoon in our sweats in front of the TV night after night. That makes us feel better for awhile. In those moments of painless abandon, we try to figure out where the disconnect is because we’ve built a house and a yard and a life and a career and we have things and our children have things and yet we still feel empty. We are strong and independent, and people who are strong and independent are supposed to be….strong. Right?

And in our attempt to find the peace and answers we seek we go back to the only thing we’ve done with any success:


Building things is always a sign of progress.


Mary said...


This is wonderful. It is one of the best I've read.


Fred A. said...

I think that after watching life move on after losses of friends, loved ones,jobs, marriages, and seeing that other people have prettier, taller and wider walls, you realize that the real meaning of life is this: The bottom line is the caring and giving you share with others with no strings attached. That the opinions of others aren't important and that our chasing them has led to great folly in our life. And it seems trite to say, but in fact it is truth- more is not better, in any material way. More caring, more love, less things and tasks building walls.

You are an amazing woman, mother and daughter and I am blessed that you have shown me how to live life well.


Dianne said...

So poignant and so true. Crazy good writing Rachel!