Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some Assembly Required

          When the boys were younger it seemed that every gift they asked for had to be put together.  They weren’t satisfied with action figures or toy cars; they needed forts and race tracks and complicated gizmos.  Now, anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that when it comes to constructing something or fixing things I am all thumbs and toes.  Just the other day I was telling a friend about a deck I was going to build in our backyard for the grill and bar.
          “You’re going to build it or have someone come in and do it?”
          “I’m going to do it,” I answered.  “It shouldn’t be hard.  It’s just flat and square.”
          Garth gave me an unbelieving look.  “Okay, well, I’m close by if you need me to show you what a hammer is.”
          I could understand his skepticism.  Usually when something needs put together Char and Nathan do it and when the car breaks down Char and Zac are the ones getting greasy.  At those moments they just look at me and say, “Why don’t you go to the porch and write about this.”  They don’t even want me to read the instructions or hand them tools.
          “Dad, what’s taking so long?”
          “You asked for a flathead screwdriver.  All of these are round.”
          “The other end, Dad.”  A screwdriver to me is orange juice and vodka, but they don’t drink while working on a car, so I’m even more confused.
          Nowadays when about to purchase anything I look for the words “Some Assemble Required” and will either do without it or pay the store to put it together.  It’s worth that little extra cost not to look like a total idiot in front of the girls.  Of course, they’re not fooled.  Everyone knows I’m inept at putting anything together but words.
          Today, many of the packages come with the “necessary tools and hardware” needed in order to assemble whatever contraption you just purchased.  They all have those tiny screws and bolts, nails and dowels.  At one time that’s all they gave you expecting you to already own the required tools to beat your table into shape, but now they even come with those miniature Allen wrenches that seem to only fit their merchandise to keep you from going nuts.  Of course, I always thought they were called island wrenches and were only used when building tiki bars and straw huts.  The one time I had to purchase one the hardware employee just shook his head.  “If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t use it.”
          The whole reason I started dwelling on this was because we had to buy some bookshelves for my study and as in most simple things in our lives, I had to try and find a deeper parallel.  While it’s true that sometimes a bookshelf is just a bookshelf, it’s also true that sometimes it’s much more.  In this case it was about life.  You see, in the beginning of our lives we all get what we need.  However, some assembly is required.  It makes perfect sense when you think of all of the clich├ęs people use such as “Build a life for yourself” or “Make something of yourself”.  Everything you need to live a fulfilled life is right there; you just have to put it together.  Furthermore, you’ve been given most of the tools - patience, strength, tenacity, and ambition - that will help you construct the life that you want.  All you have to do is use those tools and put forth the effort.
          Yet, there’s more to it than that.  Once the bookshelf is built it’s just empty slots.  It’s up to us to fill it with what we want.  The bookshelf is complete; it’s functional, but now it needs to be used to fulfill its purpose.  It doesn’t matter whether you fill it with books, pictures, or knick knacks.  The choice is yours to make according to your likes and dislikes.  The girls like to mix ours up, some books with pictures in between and a knick knack here and there.
          Life is that way.  We’re given everything we need to make one, but it is up to us to fill it according to our desires.  Some will fill it with music or art, some with career or entertainment, and yet others with family or travel.  What you fill your life with is up to you and your goals, but don’t leave it empty.  A bookshelf with nothing on it does not fulfill its purpose.  Likewise, a life unfulfilled is meaningless.  While not everyone may have a lofty destiny, everyone does have a reason to be here and we are all given the tools to fulfill it.  Don’t allow your life to lay empty.  Fill it with the things that bring joy to your heart and to those around you.
          Of course, when filling the bookshelf there is always the temptation to overfill it.  I have a couple of bookshelves at home that are overflowing with books.  I keep buying them, but I never get rid of any whether I’ve read them or not.  I have books stacked on top of books as well as piled on the edge in front hanging on for dear life.  It’s hard for me to get rid of books after I’ve read them, because when I finish a story I feel like I’ve made a friend.  Furthermore, like visiting family in other states, I will open up the covers and revisit the merry adventures of characters I’ve grown to care about.  Char doesn’t tolerate such entanglements and as soon as she finishes a book she’s ready to toss it and make room for the next; that is, if I haven’t already snuck a book of mine in there.
            Sometimes, and I can be very guilty of this, we can treat our lives like I do my bookshelf and cram more and more into it.  Soon the bottom is ready to fall out and the shelves are sagging.  Every day has twenty-four hours, every week has seven days and every year has fifty-two weeks.  However, we will book ourselves up as if there are forty-eight hours in a day and two extra days in a week.  We need, as a whole, to slow down and savor every moment that we have been fortunate enough to experience.  We can only accomplish so much in this life and we need to decide what matters most to us and do away with the rest.  We don’t have to do everything and truly, we can’t no matter how hard we try or desire to.  Life is about choices.
            No matter how careful I am to follow the instructions, when all is completed I am left with extra parts.  It’s inevitable.  Bolts, screws, nails, it doesn’t matter.  They’re there and I don’t need them.  Perhaps the company doesn’t count them or anticipates our clumsiness losing some, so they plan ahead and give us extras.  I keep them because, well, you never know when you’re going to need those tiny little tack-like nails.
           There will be things in this life that we want to accomplish, but we won’t have the opportunity.  Time will get away from us or more urgent matters will crop up and take precedence.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that it will always be that way.  Like our extra bolts and nails, one day we may be able to pull those dreams and goals back out and see them come to fruition.
          Likewise, there may be extra skills or talents that we have gained that currently we aren’t able to use or enjoy.  That doesn’t mean they will always be left on the shelf to collect dust.  Life calls for different things at different times and it pays to have more in your storage bin than you can use at any given time.  If anything they are things you can enjoy in the solitude of your home.
           Once everything is put together, the final step is to make sure it’s sturdy enough to withstand the storms that will blow in, and they will blow in.  While the weight may cause us to bow a little, we don’t want to buckle and collapse.  We need to shore up the supports of family and friends as well as the foundation of inner solidarity and faith, whether faith in God or faith in yourself.  Believe that you can withstand whatever life hands you and you will stand.
            Life doesn’t come to us all figured out and put together.  It requires effort; it requires some assembly.  However, we’ve been given everything we need.  Now, we just have to build a life for ourselves.
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