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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Doorway to Immortality

A door twice as old as the United States of America.

Some might judge this title overly-sensational.  Others might say “So what?”  Regardless of what others might think, I happen to think the door to St. Mary’s Church is significant, as well as a cool historical artifact.

As he did with the font cover, which I discussed in “Let Me Show You This,” Ted demonstrated his church's front door for me.  This door, big enough to have ushered farm animals in and out of barns (but way too elegant for that purpose), was made for the church in the fifteenth century.  At over six hundred years old, I expected to hear it creak and groan as it moved.  (I know I would).  For its weight, I expected it to take a lot of energy to move.  Yet it swung easily and quietly for Ted.  

I still don’t get it, Dragon Dave.  Why are you (and why was Ted) making such a big deal about a door, regardless of its age?

Wood, as an organic material, changes in regard to conditions such as temperature and humidity.  It shrinks when it gets cold, and swells when the temperature rises.  Due to these variances, many large items of furniture, even those made strictly for interior use, are built largely of plywood.  This material, essentially fragments of wood glued together, keeps its shape more readily than large pieces of wood.  Consider the wide, thick slabs of wood that had to be joined together to fashion this door, and imagine how, each year, those various individual pieces would have shrunk or swelled from exposure to the elements.  Had the wood not been cut and matched well, the pieces would have separated and warped.  This is not counting the effect of wind, rain, and snow, the moisture from which would also have affected the wood.  Yet those large sections of wood have retained their cohesiveness: not even the decorative scrollwork has warped.

Door-making is a specialized skill, not something attempted by your average craftsman.  Measurements must be precise.  Pieces must be joined together securely, yet sufficient spacing left between the various pieces of wood to allow for expansion and contraction.  I once spoke with a man who was remodeling his house.  He showed me some of the impressive Shaker style Oak furniture he had made, and the walls he was putting up.  After he finished those walls and ran all the electricity through them, he would tear down the old ones that didn’t fit in with his plan.  Then he would change the level of his living room floor, making some areas lower, others higher.  He was even going to build a fireplace and chimney.  He had a full workshop, with all manner of power- and hand-tools, out in his back yard.  But with all that expertise and capability, he wouldn’t contemplate making his own doors.  Those he would order from a firm where assembly-line workers made doors all day long.  He didn’t want to worry about getting all the dimensions right down to the fractions of an inch necessary to ensure that the door worked well in all seasons, year after year.  And he lived along the coast in sunny San Diego, not inland where doors would endure major changes in temperature and moisture several times each year.

Ted demonstrates how well his door still works.

This door, as you may notice, is actually two doors in one.  The priest, or other church workers, might use the smaller door to enter and leave when the church wasn’t open to the public.  So what applies to the door as a whole also applies to this door-within-a-door.  If the smaller door wasn’t well-hung, its measurements slightly off, the pieces not constructed well, each year the smaller door would swell and stick fast in its frame, let in the rain, or cause other problems.  I’m not saying that this large double-door hasn’t needed minor adjustments on a regular basis. But the fact that it has stood the test of time suggests that it was built to last. 

So often our activities seem spelled out for us, our duties decided by others.  We are constantly handed lists of tasks that must be addressed immediately, if not yesterday.  Amid so many urgent duties, it can be easy to let slide those tasks that we view as truly important.  When we manage to sneak in (or steal) a little time for the tasks we deem important, do we really devote our best energies to them, or just make a rough pass at them, figuring that a decent effort is better than none at all?

Whether such important tasks involve your career, your relationships, or what you wish to do for others, remember this door.  Left unmade, a gaping hole exists in your life.  Devote less than your best efforts to the task, and that door will jam (keeping out that which you wish to include), or fall apart (allowing destructive forces inside).  But give of your best, don’t stop until you know the task is complete, and what you seek to do, build, or create—whatever it is—will stand the test of time.

Depending upon what you build, how you build it, and how effectively it serves others, the task you deemed important to complete may continue to benefit others long after your lifetime.  Who knows, maybe hundreds of years from now, someone like Ted will feel so enthusiastically about what you’ve done that he’ll show off its beauty and utility to complete strangers.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty cool to me.

Trying to focus on what's important,
Dragon Dave

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