WRITING #3 Making and Mindfulness; Shop Class Shangri-La

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Lincoln Junior High’s central proximity brought the East and West side kids into the same school for the first time. New classmates, contrasting attitudes, fresh perspectives; a radical shift from the protective, neighborhood nest of Roosevelt Elementary. Would the Lego block and tree-fort child world of those early years pass the “cool” test. Time to grow up? Existential questions emerged for the first time.

Lincoln cracked that code. It provided the “physical” play element to education I inherently needed for my hands. While some found the required “shop class” daunting, I was in heaven. Tightly stacked rows of oak, maple and walnut; a walk-in tool crib of organized hand tools; each hammer, wrench and drill, color coded and labeled, resting perfectly on aligned hooks and shelves. Adjacent to the crib were rows of drafting tables, t-squares and 5 types of drawing pencils. “What ? sandwiched in-between Anthropology and English was a place for making?” Yes, shop class Shangri-La.

3rd Period Music class. I loved (still love) music. When Lincoln’s Music Director asked what instrument we wanted to study, my buddies went for the brass, and the young ladies marched over to the flute and clarinet. I embraced percussion’s playground. The drum-set required the same four-limb coordination as the motorcycles I grew up with — the principles were the same; clutch-brake-shift / bass-hi-hat-snare. The physical force of motion and syncopation was a perfect fit.

And after-hours? Junior High was the advent of a social life. Without warning, my 13-year old self took a liking to the females. The physical naturally manifested once again in that first movie-theatre kiss with the cute girl who smiled at me in Geography class. I loved Lincoln.

But my personal epiphany to those existential questions emerged in Mr. Peterson’s Phys Ed Class. Mr. “Pete” was a retired football star. He ran a tight ship, shared charismatic moral-to-the-stories, and was a mentor and friend to countless Lincoln grads. Perma plaqued on the gym walls were large painted values; Courage, Honesty, Responsibility, Truth. Teaching us how to look the ball into our hands, or stop a hockey puck with an outstretched leg was insightfully connected to “doing life’s work” under the umbrella of the aforementioned values and virtues. Additionally, every dodgeball game was followed by a poetic homily on how that gladiator-like game of survival was a metaphor for our soon to be adult citizen lives. While I discovered my much needed physical niche within the Lincoln curriculum, it was Mr. Pete, who awakened me to the head and heart in a class all about hands. My brain and brawn dichotomy found some balance in discovering stoic self-reflection and the living the examined life. While I have success and failures in every one of those “wall words” they continue to resonate.

“Sweep the Streets Like Michelangelo Painted …” Martin Luther King Jr.

I conclude paraphrasing an account of the Bricklayer parable. Architect Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral in the 1600s. He approached the job site and asked how it was going. The first bricklayer, “I am laying bricks; providing for my family.” The second bricklayer, “I am a craftsman, building perfectly plumbed walls”. The third leader-like worker exclaims, “we are doing the work of Almighty God”. The truth of our work is demonstrated in how we show up each day. Like MLK said, it does not matter how society labels our work. We can find a mindful mission and purpose in anything we do.

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