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Built with Many Hands

Updated: Feb 27

My life has been filled with projects. There’s just nothing more satisfying to be as a project completed. I learned to crochet at nine, took up acrylic paints at eleven, learned felting and how to make Christmas ornaments out of glittery paper and straw, learned how to make a marionette, and a hundred other crafts as a Girl Scout. I was the sister who always put the cereal toys together – you know, the snap-together plastic things that were an entire journey of their own. First, you had to convince mom to buy the cereal, and then you had to hunt for the toy floating around in the box (we didn’t wait until we got to it by actually EATING the cereal), and finally, had to break apart all those tiny pieces without losing them, and figure out how they snapped together from those cryptic instructions that would give IKEA a run for their money.

I learned how to install my own telephone at 15, after my parents told me, “No, you can’t have a phone in your room, that costs money that we don’t have!” Thus, ushering in the era of “just watch me”, when faced with an obstacle of someone else’s making. My first marriage was filled with arguments where I was told “You can’t do that”,  “That won’t work”, “That won’t fit there”, “You don’t need to do that” and a hundred other reasons why I shouldn’t be taking on the project of the week. It seems, looking back, the first part of my life was filled with people telling me what I COULDN'T do, instead of encouraging me to do what I WANTED to do, which led to a pretty big chip on my shoulder, in addition to a pretty strong sense of self-assuredness that I COULD, INDEED, DO THAT.

I spent my thirties raising my kids, doing the work thing, trying to build a life for us that matched the vision I had in my head of what I wanted our lives to look like. My ideas and ambitions never resonated within our marriage. That was a very lonely time in my life - projects lost their shine, and I put my head down and gritted my teeth through the chore that was our relationship.

It wasn’t until after I remarried, having reconnected with my very best childhood friend, my first “boyfriend” who came back into my life just as my first marriage was ending, that I finally learned the power of what WE can do together, rather than what I can do. Those first few years he spent working on that chip on my shoulder, gentling me in the way one would do a stubborn horse, encouraging me not only to chase my dreams, but joining me in the pursuit, helping me to improve my terribly stunted life skills and allowing me the space to grow into the person I was meant to be. All the while, he lent his energy to mine, and we spent every day striving towards our shared dreams. Two being infinitely greater than one, we prospered.

Then I got my first Volkswagen. Rather, I was gifted my first Volkswagen by my father-in-law, who was just so tickled that his son and I had finally gotten together after all those years apart. He’d long held this vision that one of his boys would marry one of the Pearson girls, and it finally happened. So, after casually asking me what my dream car was, he bought it for me, and towed it from Florida to Texas to deliver it personally. A red, convertible, 1974 Karmann Ghia became the major catalyst for change in my life from the “I” to the “We”.

I drove that derelict car around with a smile, despite its breaking down every so often, needing a replacement coil, a fuel pump, some gas, the list of mishaps and failures went on and on and on. Each rescue came at the hands of one of the members of our growing VW community, complete strangers coming together to help us as many times as we came to rescue them.  We traded parts, time and stories as we all labored together, building our cars and furthering our dreams collectively. VW Work Days became a regular occurrence, where members would come together to work on whatever project was needed – a brake job, a tune-up, some upholstery work – all of us learning together how to care for and restore our precious relics. Family events were celebrated, tragedies were grieved, and we all did it together, in community. Our Work Days were almost like a good, old fashioned barn-raising – every person in attendance had a purpose, whether it was to help, or to learn, to be comedic relief or wisdom. There were those who were there to cook, and some who would “hold my coffee” (yes, that was a thing) when I needed to put my tiny girl hands into a space that the guys could not. So many strong hands to lift an engine, stretch upholstery, or break a bolt loose, so many smaller, softer hands to sand bodywork, or put things together but not break them. It was during those years that I learned joy can’t be bought, but it can be built with many hands.

It was also during that time I learned to embrace “problems” as opportunities. Each leaking brake line was a chance to learn more about how these cars were built, each late-night rescue mission in the cold and the rain a chance to grow closer to the people in our lives, each cruise or campout filled with stories we will always remember. If we broke it, we’d fix it, when we fixed it, we could drive it, and when we drove it, we felt this immense satisfaction of knowing that we had done it together.

It is that very life lesson that has become a lifeline to me, at a time when I most need support and assistance – this time not with a car, but during my grief from losing my dear husband. It is that very same community who have embraced our family, this time not in an effort to fix, but certainly to support and love us through a time that we just can’t get through alone. They know from our experience with these old cars that sometimes there is no fixing, sometimes there is only reflection, and memories. Sometimes, the only thing to be done with that dented hubcap is to paint it and turn it into something it was never meant to be. That exploded piston can be welded into a piece of art that lets you know what it was, but can never be again. And it is like that with this grief. There is no fixing, there can be only transmutation. There can be only time, and shared memories. There is no way on earth that I can survive the pain of his loss, but certainly “We” can make it through this, together. It will be only because of those many hands that I will come out on the other side of this grief journey. Perhaps with many dents, squeaks, rusty parts and parts that give out, but still driveable, and hopefully, one day filled with the simple satisfaction of a project completed.

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So very well written, thanks for sharing your story.


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