“The foolish men built a house upon the sand. The foolish men built a house upon the sand. The foolish men built a house upon the sand. And the walls came tumbling down. The wise men built a house upon the rock, the wise men built a house upon the rock….” The melody of this childhood song replays in my head, the lyrics taunting me even as I recall the hand motions that accompanied it.
Dad built a house. He constructed the first house that he and mom lived in after they were married in Willmar, Kentucky, where I was born. Dad also built and stained the twin wall cabinets that hung above the beds that mr brother and I shared in South Minneapolis. My cabinet hangs in my garage to this day. He also built the fence that runs along the property line behind our home in Plymouth. Dad built quite a bit actually. He learned construction somewhere. And what he built seemed sturdy and strong.
As a child I built an “invisible man,” painting all the respective organs and assembling the plastic model with the conviction that one day I would be a doctor. I also built model cars and airplanes. My favorite building project, however, was a zoo. I can still picture the dark musty alcove in the basement of the St. Cloud Public Library where I repeatedly retrieved the green hardbound copy of “How to Make a Miniature Zoo.” The “zoo” was located in the pen defined by two white-picket fences between the house and the garage. I didn’t so much “build” the zoo as stock it with turtles, snakes, frogs, and the occasional random rodent that my best friend, Dick, and I managed to catch. These projects never really lasted.
“Built to Last” – which happens to be the title of a best-selling book on enduring business success – is venerated as a virtuous ambition by many. The prevailing notion seems to be that building on something “solid as a rock” will do the trick. But what if I choose river rather than rock? What if being in a creative flow state is more important to me than building a lasting legacy? What if I am more interested in being alive today than what will endure for tomorrow?
Building castles on the shore with my grandchildren is one of the great pleasures of my life these days, along with digging holes in the sand so deep that my young grandson virtually disappears. Whether building or digging, I know that the tide will eventually change and the amazing forms we’ve constructed will wash away. There is no illusion that they will be there tomorrow. But the joy of the moment suffices. We laugh and we play and we dig away.
I outgrew singing about wise men and foolish men. Today I am more interested in being fully present than concerned about what will last for tomorrow. Is that foolish or is there a wisdom in that as well?