May 14, 2020

Thursdays with Woli | Building and growth

Nathan (left) and Drew Wolitarsky.

Life is a series of events of different scales.

That is how I feel now, watching my brother, Nathan, checking the support beams on the car port we are constructing.

What I mean by ‘different scales’ is this: I can recall vividly Nathan and I as children sitting shirtless in our living room, focused and quiet (for once) pulling pieces of LEGO from a massive blue bin where a wasteland of ships and critters were dormant among Jedis and Star Destroyers. From that blue bin we would create masterpieces, then fly them through the house.

The house was our universe; the Milky Way could be found in the refrigerator, Betelgeuse was located in the bouncy atmosphere of the trampoline.

And now, as we pound metal bolts into the ground, I can’t help but smile, realizing that we haven’t changed a bit. The only thing that has changed is the scale of what we are building, but what is inside of us, what binds us, is constant.

I am new to carpentry. I know next to nothing about building a structure, but as we measured the layout and set the base and began to raise the beams, I realized what a tremendous feeling it is to see a structure being formed before my eyes.

In the measurement, it is precise. One-eighth off at the base can grow to 20 feet off over time. The precision needed to support and create strength is the most vital piece to successful carpentry.

Drew and Nathan’s car port.

This resonated with me in my own life, in my own structure. I recall times when I could have taken an easy road, or neglected to do something because it was painful or stressful. Admittedly, I have done it. I have backed out on things. I have left things unfinished, one-eighth off, and all it does is create unsuccessful builds, structures built on uneasy ground that crumble.

To build anything successfully there is a certain mindset required. It is a choice to face the struggles that confront you in the battle for equilibrium.

The ground on which we are built is not always even.  Sometimes our base is brittle and weak, weather-worn, shallow.

Nathan and I ran into these troubles. We had to find ways around the slope, the shallow cement that would not support our heavy beams, drills burning out, beams coming out of balance, having the wrong instruments for the work required.

But it isn’t only the job site where we have run into our own structural problems. There was a time when he and I were at odds with one another. A time when we didn’t recognize that constant we’d had for so long, that childish love. It had been lost somewhere.

And on a warm September night – September 13, 2011 – nearing the midnight hour, I got a call that he had been a severe car accident a mile down from our childhood home.

What was left of Nathan’s vehicle following the accident.

Upon arriving, I could only see the flashing lights of paramedics and police cars. His engine was on the road and his car was wrapped around an oak tree a dozen feet away from the road, as though it had been thrown there by the unmoved tree.

I saw him unconscious in the driver’s seat, and I thought surely I had lost him forever. My mind played out a future in which I would have to continue life without him and in every scenario there was a black hole, like a circle cut out of a photograph.

Paramedics worked him out of the car with the Jaws of Life, a device used to break open metal. They put his limp body on a stretcher and took him into an ambulance.

A moment later we received news from the paramedic: He was alive.

At the hospital, as the staff rolled him past me into the ICU, they paused before me and through his broken and bloodied teeth, my brother said, “I should be dead.”

My life changed from those words. I would never be the same.

I learned recently that when you cut down a tree you can see by the formation of its rings the amount of growth it had in any given year of its life. You could decipher years of drought, of rot, of flood, and of fire, but from the outside, the tree stands tall. These years make it strong. And it is not alone. The trees in the forest grow tall together.

Drew embracing his brother Nathan.

For Nathan and I, the years of greatest growth were ahead. In the coming months there were more heartbreaks, struggles in finding that secure base in which we could start building. The way we found balance was not by fighting the problems, but working with them, accepting that they were there, and finding solutions.

Today, we stand under the blazing sun, wiping our brows as we cut and grind wood to form the rafters that will support our structure and give it strength against the elements.

In our hands is the very material that nearly killed him, a poetic transmutation of sorts – creation from pain.

Our project took us a true 36 hours to complete, and upon finishing we were so tired we couldn’t really appreciate the finality of it. And I think I know why; because this is just one build of many to come.

Life is a series of events on different scales, and as we complete one project we find something inside of us coming together, being strengthened, ready for what is next.

If there is one thing I know for certain from this experience, it is that we are all builders. We are full of years of fire and drought and rot and immense growth.

And like those trees in the forest, we stand by one another, connected by our pains, using them to create something good.