On our wanderings through the Connecticut countryside this weekend, we came across many old stone walls, remnants from our agrarian past when early settlers cleared the land of forests in order to do their planting. As they cleared more and more land, they exposed it to the freezing temperatures without the benefit of the natural mulching effect of the fallen leaves. This freezing brought more and more glacial boulders to the surface. The settlers, at first, simply stacked these stones to get them out of their way but then found they could also be useful to form boundaries for ownership or livestock or different crops.
These stone walls were not mortared, so they could not be very tall. Most are only thigh-high. However, because they were not mortared, they have survived, whereas mortared walls have crumbled when the mortar decayed. Most of the stone walls run through forests now as the agrarian economy faded and the fields were once more reclaimed by the trees.
I love to look at these stone walls and think about the people who built them so long ago, back in the eighteenth century. They gave no thought to their efforts being a testimony a couple hundred years later to their hard work and ingenuity. They were simply finding a way to make life work for them given what they had to work with, and yet here, so many years later, I am witness to those efforts.
When my father was dying, I sat with him and we talked about his life. I recounted the time when he built our garage from scratch. I was only about six, but I had a very clear picture of him sitting astride the rafters with his hammer, tanned and shirtless in the summer heat, muscles bulging as he swung that hammer again and again. I thought he was the strongest and most handsome man alive. As I sat at his bedside that day, his last, I told him that every time I returned to our old neighborhood, I looked at that garage and marveled that after more than fifty years, its walls were as straight as when they were first constructed.
“What you have built is still standing, Dad, stronger than ever. What you have built will last.” I was speaking of his family, and we both knew it.
Life is a balancing act, like the stones in those rock walls. There is no mortar that will hold everything together. We have to choose the right fit, piling one stone atop another, one decision, one accomplishment, one goal, one dream atop another, and hope it all holds together. Just as in those walls, there is never a perfect fit, but there doesn’t have to be because, if enough are placed just right, the rest will hold up. Chinks in the wall are perfectly acceptable. In fact, the chinks, instead of mortar, are what make it strong.