June 20

Sounds from a Sledge Hammer

Each day I stare at a painting purchased from a local Nepali Artist. It is a watercolor representation of every day street life in downtown Kathmandu. I love watercolor.
Something about undefined and imperfect shapes helps to blur the lines of reality making immersion within the art much easier. It brings me back, keeps me grounded and reminds me just how truly fortunate I am.  While gazing into the canvas, waves of memories come crashing back, illuminating my mind with vivid sights and sounds. They seem to emanate from each molecule of paint flowing from it and pulsating within me.

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It is a crisp Himalayan morning. Overnight thick clouds have crept up concealing all in their path. The sun climbs slowly over high peaks, cold air gradually warms and as morning fog rises from deep valleys, the surrounding hillsides materialize. The countryside begins to wake and with it an all to familiar ringing of metal striking stone. Ping… Ping… Ping… Ping… from dawn until dusk this ominous sound repeats endlessly in my mind. Each morning I awoke to slow practiced arduous strokes of a sledge as calloused hands and sore muscles repeat their laborious melody.  Their skinny bodies lift heavy mallets overhead, arms extending at the last moment only to bring the weight crashing down with thunderous force.  Tattered shirts and torn jeans read like well-aged scrolls of a long hard life. They are breaking boulders into ever decreasing sizes of rock suitable for retention walls. I still hear that smack of the hammer, years later it still plays in my head like the constant and metered ticking of a metronome. In times of frustration, it ticks away reminding me to calm down. When I feel stressed, the beat steadies my hand, lazy, it pushes me to work harder, sad, be thankful for every minute. Tick…be grateful, tick… be kind, tick… focus, tick… stay positive, you… are… so… lucky…

It has taken me a while since returning from that great adventure to recognize the effect it has had on me.  But I think I finally understand.  Its not our single actions that make a difference but the sum of those actions that shape our future.  Like single strikes of a hammer reverberating into the wind, one swing would not make a difference, but the addition of each among a dozen people formed a cacophony of sound that reshaped a whole mountainside.

People often ask me why nothing ever seems to bother me. Why any problem I encounter never seems too big to handle.  Its not that I am emotionless or arrogant, of course I get upset and frustrated but now I see the bigger picture. There is no problem that with enough effort, expertise and patience cannot be solved.  I see this all the time everywhere around me.

Just like boulders with enough pressure and time a fissure will form, eventually it will expand and before long it will cleave. I find big problems are best tackled in small pieces.  So the next time you find yourself surmounted with a monumental task do not fret. Close your eyes, take a breath, hear the metronomic drumbeat of those hammers, firmly grasp the handle of your “sledge” and start swinging.