Years ago, my husband immersed himself in the art of drystone-stacking. To understand the romance, travel to England (or New England) and stand beside one of those ubiquitous low stone walls that ramble across fields and over hills. The farmer who built those walls not only wanted to keep sheep from danger–the work evidences the soul of a poet. Not one stone is out of place; the whole has stood for a century or more. If you feel moved by this almost beyond comprehension, you may understand my husband’s obsession.
The lore surrounding this time in our family’s life is epic. My husband constantly scanned ditches, neighbor’s yards, even graveyards, for stray stones. Once spotted, he’d go to what I thought were ridiculously great lengths to secure them, trampling into the dense Pennsylvania woods through brush and trash to unbury stones that he would load into our old pickup truck. At home, I watched in some consternation as he ran his hands over each stone, considering them as carefully as a parent studies her child. Then he groaned under their weight, heaving each into place.
As each stone found its home, my consternation turned to wonder. Morning turned to afternoon and ripened into twilight. He seemed to be completely unaware of time passing, or of our children needing dinner–or anything. He was locked in silent conversation with the stones.
Stones don’t want to be trapped in mortar, he told me. As time passes, they need to be able to expand and shift. That will make the wall stronger. If built right, he said, it will last longer than we will.
Finding exactly the right place for each stone is crucial. The process can’t be rushed or your wall will topple. I watched from the window as he intuited the perfect place for each stone according to their shapes. When he was finally done–days, weeks later–the wall was beautiful and strong, and looked as if it had always been.
I feel drawn to the souls of people I love and admire, and it’s easy sometimes for me to forget that their magnetic, quiet beauty has been crafted painstakingly, stone by stone.
In this week’s Consider, Lindsay unfolded Keat’s idea of soul-making. While the concept of soul is shot through my mystery and has much to do with gift, the actual business of soul-making is practical, everyday work. I can take steps to build my soul into a beautiful, strong thing or I can give up and hope it will be done for me. The choice is mine.
Like my husband’s stone-stacking, this is patient work. It is I who must heave each stone into place in this nitty-gritty work of soul-building. In the silence of suffering, in the greatness of joy, in every small choice I make or word I speak, I am constructing my own identity. If the stones of my becoming are hidden, half-buried in the woods, will I have the courage to unearth them, claim them for my own?
It is comforting for me to remember that this business of soul-building is not a wholly solitary venture. Some stones just weigh too heavy for me. Will I have the vulnerability to ask for help from my fellow stone-builders?
For as Keats says, this world is a vale of soul-making. I do not work alone.
Photos: Lake District 2016. From the hillsides (at top) to the walls (left, above). This is one of many photos my husband took of stonewalls during our trip to England!
3 thoughts on “Soul-building? It’s Nitty-Gritty Work.”
Kim, this is quite the perfect meditation for me today as i struggled with things about life and myself. How did you our? 😃 What a wonderful reminder that each day has so many little gifts and opportunitities to grow or regress. Today i felt the weight of my regressions, and have been trying to figure it all out. Thanks for your beautiful writing and for sharing the thoughts of your soul.
Is that a picture of Martin’s wall? I’ve marveled at those walls myself, particularly in Ireland!
Be well, keep sharing…
In gratitude, Jill
Jill, thank you so much for commenting. Yes, some days I feel the full weight of my regressions as well, and then I like to remind myself to reach out to my fellow soul-builders–like you. Usually the weight hits me early in the morning–ugh. Tea helps, as does a walk and conversation, a good book, silence, writing, meditation (which for me IS silence and then writing). Maybe I should start building stone walls, though stones of that kind are at premium here by Puget Sound. I’ve enjoyed stone-stacking down by the water. Martin did not build that wall (he wishes)–it’s from our trip to England. But he did build some beautiful walls in PA. Ireland is somewhere in our future, and we hope Scotland–anywhere with walls and tea :). So grateful to connect with you. Be well, lovely woman. xo
I love the metaphor in this blog post (and the picture of the beautiful stone wall in the Lake District). I think one of the really difficult things about soul building is that we often don’t get to select our stones. Many of them are given to us or even thrown at us by life. And we can’t choose to throw these stones aside and go choose the ones we think would fit better. Like or or not, they are part of us, and they shape our soul. I think our challenge that goes into building our souls into something strong and beautiful lies less in going out to find the perfect stones, but in accepting the stones we have, building around them, and letting them become part a part of our wall. Maybe even a beautiful part. Perhaps this is another way to describe redemption.
I love to picture myself as an apprentice to Jesus, the master builder. I believe he created my soul and has a vision for how it will be most beautiful, strong, and complete. I love to picture myself watching him, learning how to fit stones perfectly together, and then, as I try it myself, having his hands occasionally over mine, lovingly guiding me and rejoicing in the beauty we are making together.