This I Believe

Brad - Emerald Hills, California
Entered on November 29, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: parenthood, work

I believe in carpentry. To me this is no mere trade, it is a privilege. It is the privilege to create with my own hands, to be able to participate in an ancient tradition. It is a timeless practice. Throughout all of history, civilizations have depended on those with the ability to build and craft wood into solid structures.

But as these civilizations have changed, so have their values. So many people feel that an ideal life consists of complexity, speed, and intelligence. As an honors student at a private high school, I am being trained for a cerebral profession. Although I do enjoy using my head to solve problems, I also value a hard day’s work.

It is this vigorous labor that allows people to escape from the complexity and speed of daily life. It makes everyone equals, working together to produce something practical and new.

I learned about the art of woodworking a few summers ago from my dad. It was almost a transformation from boy to man, as I now had enough physical strength to be of use in this custom. Because it was summer, my conscience was not bogged down with headwork. My mind was clear and my task was simple: build a ramp with a gate to connect my yard to my neighbor’s. My dad was there helping me at my side. I felt a distinctive joy when waking up the world with a 120 volt skilsaw for the first time. I determined the time of day only by hearty sandwiches at mid-day and refreshing watermelon in the afternoon. First came the digging of holes and the gentle pouring of smooth cement, followed by the careful placing of supports and the building of the frame. There were warm rays of sun shining on me, and beads of perspiration sliding down my back. Through the clinking of wrenches, the pounding of hammers, and the screeching whine of saws, I was at peace. A quiet breeze blew over me as I worked, and I knew this was where I wanted to be. It became a simple rhythm. Screw one board in, then the next, then grab more screws, then repeat. No thought was necessary, no great skill was required. I now knew what it was like to be a craftsman, to be free of the burdens of long math equations and grammatical correctness. Sweat purified my body; it only encouraged me to keep working. And after many days of this, Alas! We had formed something out of our own hands. Not only was the structure useful, but I myself became useful in constructing it. I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment as I walked on it for the first time. All my work, effort, and determination are represented in this sturdy and sound structure. It will remain there for almost a lifetime, until the day that I can rebuild it with my son.

My dad was my teacher and my guide as we built that ramp together. He revealed to me the “tricks of the trade” as he called them. I realized that concepts like “measure twice, cut once” and “pre-drill the board before you screw it in” did not only apply to carpentry. This aspect of woodworking taught me to think about what I am doing before I decide to do it. The process of sawing, sanding, bolting, and screwing in wood represented the process of making good decisions. If I prepared the wood properly, I would make a quality structure. If I researched a decision thoroughly, I was more likely to make a good decision. Carpentry taught me more than what to do with wood; it taught me how to act and make decisions.

I will probably not be a carpenter when I grow up; I will probably be an engineer or a lawyer or a businessman. But throughout my life I will always seize the opportunity to build something with my own hands.