A few months ago, a struggling friend asked his facebook contacts for general advice on how to get through a difficult time. One of my friends responded to him thusly:
Build another thing. Think about who will use it when you are gone.
This line has come back to me almost weekly since – a piece of spontaneous poetry that speaks the human condition so plainly. The drive to create, to make new, to build – and the fact that we have so little time in which to do it before we turn it into the hands of those who follow. As someone who is a builder of things (textile things), I understand entirely, the continuity that making engenders – the connection to the past and the future which is made in the moment of throwing the shuttle or placing the stitch. And of course, I am highly aware that there may be no one to pass these things along to because we do not live in a world where we think too hard about who is coming next and what will be their inheritance. So many of the made “things” of this world do not even last a single lifetime, plastics becoming the stomach lining of birds and whales instead, houses even – built only for the use of a single family one time before they are plowed under for the next incarnation. This is the breaking of the line between then, now and the future – the refuse that piles up and doesn’t break down into anything reusable.
The chair above this post is about 150 years old. I purchased it on Craigslist for $75 and spent a ridiculous sum of money having it reupholstered because I loved its shape and the hand carved wood. When we peeled back the upholstery at the refinishing place, it was clear that it had been redone at least twice since the original fabric when onto it – making this the fourth recovering in its lifetime. I expect it won’t need to be done for another 40 or 50 years given the wear that a chair like this gets – which means the next time it gets a new coat I will likely have passed on. The chair is really sturdy, though perhaps it will need to be glued at some point to keep its joints together – but still, someone is using it long after the maker’s death, and will be using it beyond my own temporary hold. Though I am not the builder, I am a caretaker of this thing that will be used by another when I am gone.
If we could hold this perspective on our world with each purchase, with each thing we build – how different this all would be. What is this thing I am making? Will it last? Does it have use beyond this moment? Who will use it and how? When we are done with its use, can it be returned to the ground with little impact?
And so, this little poem to help us remember:
will use it when
you are gone.