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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

From my lips to the ears of God

This past week I joined a motley crew of folks who are volunteering their time to renovate the barn at the home of a good friend of mine and turn it into an art studio for another friend who has recently returned to the US after many years in Israel. There was John, a chiropractor who paid his way through school by doing contracting work; Jack, an artist who sculpts graceful nudes out of bronze and marble; Chris, who is currently working on replacing the gold tiles on the dome of the Shrine of the Bab at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel; Rebecca, a teacher whose knowledge about automobiles has made her my new car repair guru; Jose—an El Salvadorian contractor whose energy on the job began at 7am and was still going strong when the rest of us were far beyond lagging, and me.

We started with a barn that had no insulation and was all open save a loft area at the back. We started by stapling insulation to the walls and ceiling, and then cutting and mounting sheetrock on the walls. After three days of working we had finished the sheet rocking and started putting mud in the screw holes, inserting a door into the back of the barn, and getting the bathroom ready for tiling. Let me be clear. I am not a handywoman. Until two years ago my hammering skills ended with putting a nail into the wall to hang a painting, and my proudest carpentry creation was a spice rack I made with pinewood when I was eight. Balancing on scaffolding fifteen feet off the ground wielding a power drill and was not something that I had ever envisioned myself doing. At least not in this life. But here I was attempting not only to not fall off the scaffolding and plunge to the hard cement floor beneath me, but to actually make myself useful in some small way among the crew of handy folks around me.

After three days of work, punctuated by breaks for delicious meals of Persian rice filled with chicken and pork being prepared and delivered by some amazingly generous women in the community, I was finally managing to get my screws into the sheetrock without driving them so far through that the wall surface was crushed and crumbling; was becoming more adept at how to use a jack to get the panels hoisted up to the ceiling to be mounted; and was learning how to locate the wooden beams of the barn to which I was mounting the sheetrock even when I could not see what was happening behind the panels. Perhaps rather basic skills in comparison to the more experienced crew around me, but I am working on celebrating small successes these days. I was also learning the immense amount of patience required to get this sort of job done, and done well; and that it was going to take time until I had the strength to lift heavy equipment on my own or mount panels to the ceiling holding the drill with one hand. Humility was the virtue of the week. Renovating the barn was going to be just as much about flexibility (putting the door in the wrong place and then having to move it) as it was about building skills.

One afternoon, far after my hands had moved past being sore and into the unexplored territory of swollen aching, John (the chiropractor and king of carpentry) asked me what I was filling my time with while I hunted for jobs. I mumbled something about assisting with a children’s class that was going through some challenging times before falling silent, and he started suggesting other areas of service that I could get involved with while I was here. I explained that I was reluctant to take things that might prevent me from leaving as soon as I found work. “So what you really are saying is that you are already gone,” he said. I started to protest, and then realized he was right. All those yoga classes and I had still not figured out how to be present. I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on the smell of wood, the vibration of the power drill against my palm and the satisfaction of watching the space around be slowly be transformed into something that would soon be an art studio.

In the evenings we had people drop by for visits. One night we had seven people come by for a “fireside” or discussion group (the first fireside took place next to an actual fireplace, hence the name) focused on a particular topic. That night the topic of choice was fear. I was silently amazed, and equally amused at my surprise that maybe I was in the right place at exactly the right time. Radical. At the end of the evening we walked outside among the enormous oak trees that arched over my friends’ home to see the guests off. I walked beside a woman from Ethiopia who asked me what I was doing with my life. I explained that I was thinking of moving to Greece to offer service in the Baha’i community there. “Just like that?” she asked me. “You will just pack up like that and move to the other side of the world?” As she spoke I could hear my doubts and fears growing like a giant dark shadow inside my chest. “Yes, I said,” trying to sound confident. “Just like that. If I manage to find work...” Registering my concern with finding employment in a country that is experiencing an economic collapse, the effects of which are rippling across Europe, she smiled reassuringly and said: “If it is the right thing, an opportunity will come up. Your intention goes right from your lips to the ears of God.” She pointed at her lips for emphasis and then gazed up at the moon – just starting to rise up over the full leafy tops of the oaks, quivering slightly in the cool summer breeze.

Later that night my friends and I went for a midnight swim, a round, crisp yellow moon hung high in the clear, star strung sky. Floating on my back in the sun-warmed water gazing up at the ever-constant moon, I reflected on her words, and for one of the few times since arriving on the west coast felt a certainty that she was right. I might not find work in Greece. But I had voiced my intention, so if it was meant to be an opportunity was sure to emerge.

1 comment:

  1. Ariana, I know that feeling of when you are trying to piece together your life, bit by bit. When you are not sure what your future holds, but you have so many dreams. It is a challenge to be passionate and far reaching, while being very practical and focused. I recenly had a job work out that I feel so blessed to have, but when I look back at the years of continual progress towards this position I realize that many little decisions brought me here! I know you'll reach those goals, sometimes we need to be guided about the journey.