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Putting Things Together; and Taking them Apart.
From a very early age, as far back as I can remember—four or five, maybe—I have taken things apart and put them back together. Whenever something arrived in our home that needed assembly, I was summoned, even as a child, and I gladly lost track of time as I tackled the build. As I look back at this behavior now, I think I was odd. I never looked at the directions; instead, I would lay out the parts, study them, sometimes pick them up and roll them over in my hand, trying to figure out what they were supposed to do. I would then start to build—not always correctly, but when I did something wrong I would just take it apart and start again until I got it right. I never went to the directions, even as I grew older and could read.
I never asked for help, either, unless I needed to have someone hold or lift something. And if I called you in, you had to do what I told you to do—no more, no less, no input. I know, I know. Those who know me well might say that I’ve never changed, and that this isn’t a trait I should share with pride. Well, you can all kiss my accomplishments, and not focus on what might have been if I’d been different. Know thyself and build off that—that’s my motto. Don’t try to be something if you know it’s never going to be you.
There were also times that I took things apart that were already assembled, only to spend hours putting them back together again. My first memory of this was when I wanted a pony for Christmas, but came down in the morning to find a rocking horse instead. Not what I hoped for, though it was a large, beautifully painted rocking horse, on a sturdy foundation with a lot of complex parts. As the story was told, I didn’t open any of my other presents that day; I went and got the tool box, and spent the better part of the day taking apart that rocking horse that should have been a real pony and putting it together again … more than once.
If you asked me today to explain my behavior that Christmas, given my age, which was four, I’d say that I think I was trying to make the rocking horse something it wasn’t. Alive.
You see if you take something apart, you can put it back better. Or so I pretend.
As I grew older and started constantly hurrying from one goal to the next, I stopped putting things together, and I certainly never took anything apart just because I could. I think I can safely say that in the last forty years, I haven’t put anything together. Or had the desire to take anything apart.
A few weeks ago, though, I ordered two chairs for a small table in my living room. When they arrived, I found they required “some assembly.” (As an aside—language matters, manufacturers! And customers hate unfulfilled expectations. I can assure you that “some assembly,” which then turns out to take hours, is an unfulfilled expectation. But I digress …)
For some reason, rather than waiting for the quickly competent man who comes now and again to take care of things for me around my beloved cottage, I opened those boxes up myself. I took out all the pieces and laid them out on the floor just like I used to—setting aside the pamphlet of instructions, of course. I stared at the parts for a while. Then, I put those two chairs together. Best time I’ve had in a long time.
It took me ten minutes to find the legs; I thought they were left out of the order and was getting agitated at this incredible lack of excellence from the company—until I discovered that they were under the chair seats, which have zipper bottoms. How cool is that? I think I am going to hide some things in there, like the cash I don’t actually ever seem to have lying around anymore (who uses cash, anyway?), or the jewelry I have long since given to Sarah or friends.
When working on the first chair, I put the legs on facing in rather than out. I had to take it apart and build it over again, but I laughed at myself and I gladly did so, excited that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The first chair took me an hour, maybe. The second one, fifteen minutes. Now, every single time I see these chairs, which is multiple times a day, I feel good. And, with time becoming more meaningful to me as I age, I recognize how much taking things apart and putting them back together again, or assembling them yourself when you bring them into your life, is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. The time it takes is time well spent.
I don’t need to point out the metaphor here, but I’m going to do exactly that. In the last forty years, I have taken things apart, or built them from scratch. I’ve done it in my work, just not with things.
In the coming months I intend to take a lot of things apart, both things and my history. Conversations I want to do over again, things I’ve long wanted to change but haven’t examined closely enough yet, working in my garden, getting that table to not wobble. The electric salt and pepper grinders that I think are cool and have always been curious about how they work. I know it will be worth every minute I put in.
When you come over, you will be impressed that the chairs sit solidly on the carpet, proud and tall, and they will hold you and the conversations we will have while sitting on them.