This I Believe

Christine - Port Townsend, Washington
Entered on September 5, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: creativity, hope
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Building a poem is like building a house

where raw material, pointed word and nail

are laid out in piles awaiting a rule….

These are the first lines of poem I wrote when I was 25. A rough carpenter and budding poet, I was proud to wield both a hammer and a pen. I darted up ladders and shimmied along ridgepoles, exuberant at being able to sink a nail in two blows.

Twenty-five years later – and married for the first time – I am building a house of my own. But now I watch while other carpenters heft rafters and nail on clapboard in the Westerly winds. No longer am I the laborer swaggering in her tool belt while owners lean over the plans, demanding that a window be moved another six inches. Now I’M the owner, a middle-aged wife asking if we just might be able to fit in a central vacuum system.

Building a house forces you to think carefully about how you live – both day-to-day and in the world. We did install the vacuum. But we also have plumbed our small house–just shy of 1400 square feet –for solar hot water, and we installed a Rumford fireplace for additional heat.

As we come into the final stretch – the sheet rockers are here this week – the choices continue. And they seem increasingly absurd when viewed in the context of the world’s troubles. How can I choose between “bronze” or “stainless” finish for the bathroom faucet when more than a billion people around the globe lack access to clean drinking water? When war-torn families from Baghdad to Darfur are forced from their houses daily? When millions of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure?

My husband, a maker of bows for stringed instruments, has an answer: “Beauty,” he says quietly. “We may not be building the perfect house, but we are leaving behind something beautiful, well made. Something built to last.”

He’s right. One hundred years from now – long after we have turned to dust – the occupants of our house will be gladdened by this well-made and yes – beautiful structure. The shed dormers are just the right proportion and the shapely rafter tails give grace to the roofline. The curved chimney is modeled after one in Northern Europe where my husband was born. All the subtle features of our little house suggest safety, a timeless coziness we hope people will continue to be drawn to.

Thinking of those future inhabitants, this morning my husband and I have assembled a time capsule. In a large plastic tube we’ve stuffed a copy of our daily New York Times, a magazine or two, and the recent issue of our local paper. We’ve included our house plans, our wedding invitation, and photos of my husband’s bows played by musicians around the globe. I slipped in a couple poems, too, hoping that down the road those words might still ring true. We’ve tucked in a bottle of local wine to provide inspiration if the poems fail to.

This morning as the sheet rockers covered over the time capsule we’d placed in the wall of our stout house perched on the edge of a continent, we suddenly realized it is more than a record of today’s world: It’s an act of hope. When the tube is someday discovered, we want the house’s owners to still appreciate the things we do: a nearby beach where one can hook a salmon for dinner, soil in which vegetables can grow, a town where one’s voice is heard, a nation where words can still be published without fear.

Maybe it’s naïve – like a twenty-five-year-old’s belief that she can hammer a zillion nails and still have time and energy for more – but our house embodies more than nails and Douglas fir. It’s about a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, a town, and, yes, a country. We hope and pray they are all built to last.