Reflection Words of Wisdom All Around

Digging Down

When you are young the world seems so small.

Grown-ups ferry you from building to building and place to place. Walls and fences serve to hold the outside world at a safe distance and as children you need not know of the supposed framework holding it all together. Even as a child though... we still catch glimpses of traffic as it passes by.

There's traffic in the sky
And it doesn't seem to be getting much better
There's kids playing games on the pavement
Drawing waves on the pavement
Shadows of the planes on the pavement
Its enough to make me cry
But that don't seem like it would make it feel better
Maybe its a dream and if I scream
It will burst at the seams
This whole place will fall to pieces
And then they'd say...

Well how could we have known?
I'll tell them it's not so hard to tell
If you keep on adding stones
Soon the water will be lost in the well
 [1]

The four-line chorus above sends me to a place in my thoughts, an arid plain where dust is blown in gusts and you have to squint your eyes to gain any partial visibility. The small village I see doesn't look like much, most of the mud-brick structures are near collapse and their occupants sit along the exterior walls, slumped over in defeat as they look to the center where the streets meet. All the best stones they have pulled from their foundations for the building of a wall; the sides of a well that circle ever-upward towards the heavens. The stones extend high above the roofs of the clay hunts, and all eyes watch as a bare-foot, dark skinned boy climbs a rickety make-shift ladder. His legs wobble and the bindings that lash the struts together creak and snap. On his head the boy balances a bucket on a leather strap, he tilts his nose downward to keep the strap from slipping off his sweaty forehead and the empty bucket moves out from his back and knocks between his small, bony shoulder blades with each..shaky..step..upward. His eyes are fixed on the last rung and a rope dangles over his right shoulder as he carefully moves up the last step. Then the real tragedy sets in as the rope end wags... brushing the dirt at the base of the ladder.

Even if the boy were to lean over the edge, down into the mouth of the well, what hope is there that he could ever reach the water far below the ground? Too many stones have been added and the water has been lost deep below. Lost, in the well.

As a boy myself, I remember playing games, but I also remember the shadows of the planes on the pavement.

I remember Sunday afternoons, after church, driving with my parents over to my grandparents' house in the city. Though Ma and Pa's house did not feel like "the city" because they kept things so very simple. Ma had a washer and dryer, yet preferred to let the clothes air-dry, outside on the line. She had raised four boys in that two bedroom house... things were always kept tidy and neat. And, as I am sure my father did, I found comfort as a child in the routine and simplicity that is Ma and Pa. We always sat around the same table, ate the same food, and curled up in the same places to take our naps. On nice days we would all be energized and want to enjoy the fresh air of the back yard.

Sitting just beyond the patio, next to the separated single-car garage was a "porch" style swing that would fit three adults or snuggly fit two adults with two kids sandwiched in between. We children had to take turns swinging with whomever was in the swing. When we were small we did our best to touch our feet along the ground and help push the swing higher, but until we were a bit older and longer our efforts were futile at best; our little legs could not reach the six concrete pavers that were set into the grass below. However, we could arch our heads backward over the crook of the green metal swing and stare up into the Gum tree high above.

The Gum could not have been more magical if it had dropped gum balls on us... as in the spring it would drop small round seed casings about the size of a large cherry, stem and all! The Gum balls were bright green and firm in the early spring and grew prickly spines and turned brown as summer approached. The sky itself was barely visible close towards the house where there was another maple tree (off-set several feet from the Gum). The T-supports of the clothes line started there next to the Maple and extended towards the back fence row. How fun it was to run beneath the hanging laundry and to weave in and out past the end post. We ran wildly back into the long yard that opened up to blue skies.

I remember just how quiet it was there, in that closed-in back yard. That is, until the belly of a plane would move from low-to-high into the distance with a roar. The planes were so loud that if you had closed your eyes you would have believed they weren't more than stones-throw away.

Still there are those memories, of being a kid, and of eating ice cream sandwiches and rainbow bars in the afternoon sun. Attempting to climb trees with branches so high we could only hope to reach them with a jump. We usually settled into a game of croquet, a game that for us, had none of the typical rules and consisted instead of seeing who could swing the mallet the hardest... knocking a colorful ball to the back fence in the least number of swings. The croquet set that we used was a seemingly ancient one. One that my father had played with when he was young. Among the cob webs of the garage there were other discoveries lining the slatted, wood walls: old tools and empty RC Cola bottles commemorating the Kentucky Colonels basketball team. I remember fragments of the conversation that we would have on such afternoons and the calming breeze that could be felt... before the traffic in the sky would startlingly come roaring by.

Airplanes will always remain to represent a crowning achievement in technological advancement... I am not suggesting that there were not incremental steps along the way and that air travel would have even been possible without the advancements of other technologies, I am simply saying that planes are impressive. And how about the computer and electrical system advancements that control the traffic in our skies!! All these are impressive stones.

But, now it occurs to me that more important lessons may be learned from digging down, rather than adding stones onto the tower of human progress:

Puzzle pieces in the ground
But no one ever seems to be digging
Instead they're looking up towards the heavens
With their eyes on the heavens
There are shadows on the way to the heavens
It's enough to make me cry
But that don't seem like it would make it feel better
The answers could be found
We could learn from digging down
But no one ever seems to be digging
Instead they'll say...

Well how could we have known?
I'll tell them it's not so hard to tell
If you keep on adding stones
Soon the water will be lost in the well

Words of wisdom all around
But no one ever seems to listen
They're talking about their plans on paper
Building up from the pavement
There are shadows from the scrapers on the pavement
It's enough to make me sigh
But that don't seem like it would make it feel better
The words are still around
But the words are only sounds
And no one ever seems to listen
Instead they'll say

Well how could we have known?
I'll tell them it's not so hard to tell
If you keep on adding stones
Soon the water will be lost in the well
 [2]

For over five years I have worked at a rather fervent pace in downtown Louisville. My grandparents' home is only ten or so miles from the tall sky scrapper that I work in, due north of the airport. With an open invite to lunch, I recently did make it back over to their house. Sitting and talking with Pa, I enjoyed asking him questions and digging down. There is a fulfilling quality hidden within such conversations. And on my way back into the office I considered what kinds of walls I had been building. Walls at least tall enough to cast sizeable shadows and thick enough to muffle the voices of the meek. Perhaps, we should all find ways to draw some of "the sounds" around us back into the bucket; back into words... as water from a well.

In the vast gap between question and answer, silence becomes a sound. Perhaps those of us that are the most simple are also the most able to frame these sounds into words; into phrases capable of reaching the wellspring of being that has been lost in the depths, beneath the stone. Such waters offer a refreshing drink for one's soul.

Before I walk back into my building to sit at my computer, I hold in my two extended hands a draw-knife that belonged to my grandfathers' grandfather. Its design is simple, a sturdy marriage of soft wood and hardened steel. My grandfathers' gift to me is that I will possess something that his father, and his father before him had held in their hands. A greater gift still -if I could hold something of their heritage in my heart and mind. Today, I find that the stones in the wall... have been little more than minutes, of busyness and of agenda.

Laying some of those stones aside I sit with my grandfather as he remembers a few words that his father left with him: "Sometimes it will bring a tear to your eye just to think about it," he says, "and Dad said 'Son in this world we may never be worth much, but we can have a good name.' and I think that's about as important as anything that you can have that comes along."

Pa went on to say "Life is not about how much money you make or how big your house is, it's about how you treat people."

While this may seem like common knowledge, how many of us continue spending the majority of our time and efforts paying-off bigger houses instead of nurturing the priceless relationships of people that wish to share in our lives?

If we continue pulling stones from places of sanctuary we will leave our souls vulnerable and exposed. And despite each effort to do something great with our lives we will only serve to un-settle ourselves more completely.

"You have to set aside time for things. Otherwise you miss out on the things that are worth the most to you." -William Thomas Hudson (Pa)

[1] Traffic In the Sky, Song Written By Jack Johnson, 2003 (Universal Records)

[2] Traffic In the Sky continued, Link To Listen: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtJIu0Tylb0

Bill Hudson   # March 30, 2015

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