Rob built new steps for our house last week. I “supervised.” I watched him measure twice and cut once. I watched him level the job to perfection—not a simple task given the way things slant and lean around here. I watched him drill holes, drive nails, and set screws to create a solid, stable platform on which to stand or (as is often my wont) to sit. I watched him bull nose the treads and paint the risers…I thought I had a momentary vision of DaVinci, flat on his back, working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And when he was finished, he stepped back and looked upon what he had wrought and said, “Nah; off by an inch.” And he started over.
Rob would be the first to admit that he’s a perfectionist. It’s a quality that I greatly admire but don’t remotely share. I can live with imperfection which, in my case, is a good thing. Still, a craftsman like Rob doesn’t earn his stellar reputation by producing shoddy work. The same is true of my friend Eggman the painter. He’s an old-fashioned miracle up on a ladder, sanding, scraping, taping, priming, laying on a first coat, then a second, before he details and touches up his work. Even then, for Rob or Eggman, the work isn’t done: saws and tools and brushes need to be cleaned and stored, everything returned to its proper place, ready for the next job. That kind of organization and care is another quality I admire but don’t share. I put down my screwdriver and five minutes later I can’t for the life of me find it.
But back to our new steps. It doesn’t take a genius to see their metaphoric value. The old steps were worn out. The wood was rotting in places, the paint was chipped; truth be told, they were an accident waiting to happen. As a portal to our porch and house, they sent entirely the wrong message: this house is tired, it has lost its charm, it isn’t loved and cared for by the owners. Talk about fake news!
We all need new steps from time to time. It’s so easy to follow old, familiar patterns, or to overlook problems, or to take the easy way out of banal responsibilities. Why not put something off until tomorrow? Maintenance isn’t sexy; let’s just buy something shiny and new and never mind those old porch steps. We’ll get to those someday…
Of course, there’s this, too: new steps lead in new directions. That journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step. It may be a hard one to take sometimes, but unless that initial stride is made, there is no progress, only decay. I can’t honestly say I was thinking those thoughts as I watched Rob labor away on our new steps, but the message he left behind after he packed up his tools and drove away is crystal clear: new steps lead to new beginnings.
Be like Rob: make new steps.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.