On a rainy morning when I was ten, my neighbor, Mr. Lovett, invited me into his home for a woodworking project. Above his fireplace sat an ornate eagle carved by Mr. Lovett himself. Its wingspan was wider than I was tall. I remember wondering how long it took him to make that eagle.
He gave me several options for my project. I chose a duck. Mr. Lovett guided my block of wood under the scroll saw until it morphed into the rough outline of a duck.
“There,” he said, “I’ve done the easy work. Now, grab the sandpaper.” I sanded, fast and furious. In no time, my duck felt as smooth as a river rock. Mr. Lovett inspected my work and stifled a laugh. “Well, you’re off to a good start, Davy.” A good start? I’d sanded that duck to perfection. Besides, my wrist was sore, and a sliver of sunlight tempted me through the tiny basement window. I did not want to disappoint Mr. Lovett, so I continued to sand, paying closer attention to the curve of the duck’s neck, the nicks from the saw, and the pattern of the wood grain. The work went on like this for the entire afternoon. If it took this long to make a duck, how many lifetimes did it take to make an eagle?
By mid afternoon, I was finished sanding and ready to begin staining. After applying the first coat, Mr. Lovett explained that I’d need to come back the next day to complete the second coat. Finally, after that, we’d be able to begin the three-day varnishing process.
I am, by nature, restless. I want things done now. I tend to tackle responsibilities quickly, making sure that nothing is hanging over my head. But, I’ve found that when all of the responsibilities are cleared, I create new ones for myself. I think I do it because I’m uncomfortable being still. Idleness has always felt unproductive.
I remember telling my parents how slowly Mr. Lovett worked. But, when I took my duck home four days later, I could hardly believe I’d been a part of the creation. It looked worthy of sitting on Mr. Lovett’s mantle.
And now, as I sit on the floor with my own children, thinking about all the tasks I could be completing, I remember Mr. Lovett and the duck. I remember the slowness, the frustration, the simplicity and the nearly perfect end result.
I believe in slowing down, and sometimes even stopping. There’s a reason I remember my afternoon with Mr. Lovett so clearly when thousands of others have been lost from memory. I paid attention to the process. This is how I’m trying to live now. Daily, I pay attention on a new level. Life can be a blur, or we can bring it into focus. I want mine to be as clear as possible. Maybe, if I put on the breaks long enough, someday I’ll be able to make my own eagle.