From an old Holden proverb, “Like the skirt panels on the new bridge, we too are all replaceable.”
So, I can be kinda dumb sometimes – like last week, for example, when we were signing the new bridge. I was feeling very proud that these panels we assembled and those 4x4s we cut were put together, and they actually resembled a bridge. I wasn’t quite sure why we were signing the bridge, but when in Rome . . . When I got to go under the beams and walk through the bridge, I was pretty excited. This was my work! Along with other countless volunteers, we made this! So, as a young, excited carpenter, who can count the projects she’s completed on one hand, I felt very giddy when I signed my name. In fact, I wrote more than my name; I wrote “Ellen Seltz made this panel. Ellen Seltz drilled this hole.”
I left feeling very satisfied with myself – until later, when I heard others talking about the beautiful prayer that so and so wrote on the bridge. I had one of those “oh … ah, was that what we were supposed to be doing?” moments. Then it all became clear. Peter said during the ceremony, “No one will see this; it will all be covered up.” I thought, wait, then what’s the point?
Good question, Ellen. I’m glad you asked . . . You see, I’m reading this book by David Brooks called The Road to Character, and in it he explores the ideas of “resume virtues” vs “eulogy virtues,” where resume virtues are external and can be seen as physical achievements, high status and success, and eulogy virtues are internal, dealing with morality and not just doing good but being good. The book goes on to explore eulogy virtues as true forms of character in different historical figures.
So after feeling very embarrassed and immature while bragging about my work, while no one will ever see my claim to it, I remembered this chapter and am trying to apply it to life here as I get ready to leave Holden. While I don’t feel bad about working hard and being proud of what I accomplished, I did feel sort of childish in my attempt to leave a mark of my presence here in such a way. But we’re all trying to leave a mark on this place. And some will stand the test of time, and some will degrade over the next couple years and be forgotten. I’m trying to remind myself as I leave this place, that it’s not what I’ve built that matters; it’s what I’ve learned; it’s those I’ve conversed with and cried with; it’s the grace that I’ve received being here; walking on these paths as yet untrodden that were probably blessed ceremoniously by some person who understood a lot more about character than my twenty-six year old brain can even comprehend.
Bridges are replaced, Adirondack chairs weather and rot, cabinets get coffee spilled on them, and we all leave and new people will fill our shoes. Physical things, including us as workers, are replaceable. But we are more than the work we do. What we really leave behind is our character and lots of new potty patrol items. What we take with us are the smiles, hugs, tears, and memories shared with friends here. I’ll leave you with a quote from The Road to Character, “Success leads to the greatest failure which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success which is humility and learning.”
I’m grateful for the grace I’ve received when I do dumb things and for the opportunity to learn from them and from all of you. Thank you.