Have you ever heard the story of The Three Bricklayers? I hadn’t—until recently:
A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood and smiled and replied with a gleam in his eye, “I am building a cathedral.”
I’ve been working on a Poetry In Motion series of animated excerpts from my book Sage Words, and a couple of weeks ago I showed one to a friend. They were thrown off guard and asked surprisingly why didn’t I do this sooner?
I answered as gracefully as I know how and said that I was working on other palettes—assisting the artistic growth of my children so they could create their futures. Restoration projects like our home and, most important, a successful family. I’ve been thinking a lot about that question.
To many people—on the surface—I was a bricklayer. Just a nurse. Just a stay-at-home mom. Quiet roles.
I’ve been engaged and working with purpose toward the bigger picture for a long time, with each and every brick a necessary part of building something significant. Carefully and vigilantly connecting the walls of my life, and that of my family. A rock solid foundation has always been my goal. It occurred to me after this conversation that I’ve been building my cathedral. My loyalty to the project was endless. It’s completion, monumental.
What can the architect accomplish without the bricklayers? The hospitals without the nurses and the families without someone to keep the machine well-oiled and running smoothly? We have to remind ourselves that the daily quiet, small steps we’re taking are creating something of value to the world. We’re producing work that MATTERS.
Why is it important for us to view ourselves and our work as significant?
When we view ourselves and our work as important, then we also understand our purpose—and the significant cost for not getting our work done. The stakes are too high to stand still.
Six months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke to a group of students at Barratt Jr High School in Philadelphia. His question to the students: “What is your life’s blueprint?”
This feature from the Seattle Times and the estate of Dr. King is a beautiful and poignant reminder that if we have a proper and solid blueprint when building the structure of our lives, then our lives will have ultimate significance.
“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music… No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr)
The story of The Three Bricklayers is a tale of two attitudes. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If your attitude is positive, you can face life’s challenges with a firm belief and a proactive perspective. Your perspective can determine whether you view your problems with desperation and despair, or whether you confront your challenges with courage, perseverance and resilience.
Battered, Not Broken Illustration by Kimberly K. Taylor-Pestell
There are the distractions and the unexpected that aren’t a part of our blueprints. And masonry buildings are brittle structures and one of the most vulnerable under a strong shaking. It takes great effort not to get swept away in the earthquake and buried under the rubble.
Throw an illness (like Celiac) into our life’s master plan, or broken bones (my son) from a serious bicycle accident, and now we’re paying attention to our fragility. We don’t feel so rock solid all of a sudden, which can momentarily consume us.
But that’s why we build the foundation—with passion and purpose—so there’s solid strength to handle it. Challenging times can fortify our faith, strengthen our character, and deepen our resolve.
And we need reinforcement.
One of the things as you age, is often you become somewhat wiser. Life isn’t a competition, or a game. As soon as your blueprint turns into either, you remove the integrity: which is to do good, work smart and hard to help others, and to be rock solid. No matter what comes your way.
As we lay our bricks, let’s do it like Michelango painted pictures and with painstaking excellence. Let’s respect that all walls must be joined properly to the adjacent walls so the ones loaded in their weak direction can take advantage of the good lateral resistance offered by walls loaded in their strong direction. Further, walls need to be tied to the roof and foundation to preserve their overall integrity.
It doesn’t matter WHEN you give your time and talents a place to give back. What matters is that there’s respect for the process. Whatever good you aim for. There’s no right or wrong. Challenges can become opportunity, and vulnerability makes way for a powerful and authentic way to live. Some of us are Young Virtuosos and others of us are Old Masters. The pace is the pace.
Keep the balance as best you can with your feet firmly planted on the ground, say thank you and breathe. Small efforts go a long way when practiced regularly.
“If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the color of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay”
—Fragile by Sting