I met a man who told me a story of everything that mattered most to him. He started with how he came to be a firefighter.
It evolved from a learning experience that revealed to him the value of being a career firefighter. But what came before it interested me most.
He was just out of high school, working a few jobs between companies that manufactured and sold glass. He enjoyed the work and found there was a very large market for it. Being the man that he was (is), he saw an opportunity to have a self sustaining business practice, independent from the system that dictated his current lifestyle.
The time was invested into learning what was necessary to start his own business and having discovered he already had all but one thing, he was sure of his new path. But the one thing he lacked would prove to be the last and greatest moat he must hurdle.
Space. He needed space to begin his business. He looked and everywhere he could find was either too expensive or not big enough for the machinery and work area needed. However, he knew of one option that he’d saved for last, his very own grandparents. You see they had a barn. Granted, our protagonist here had no real desire to take their space from them, and really no desire to have the conversation about why. He knew his grandparents to be very conservative people and to take a chance at starting his own business was as non-conservative as it was ambitious.
Nonetheless, his pride gave way to his desire to be a glass maker and business man. He went to his kin with a prayer in his heart and a vision plan in his mind. And on his tongue was his request:
“I have an idea, grandmother and grandfather, I have a plan. I will start my own business making and selling glass, providing those who need certain designs and forms with just that, all the while receiving a 200-400% markup in value. I already have the skills to succeed with the craft. I have people who are ready and committed to working for me. I even have the capital to invest and begin the business.”
They looked on.
“However,” he faultered, “I have no space. I simply need a space to begin my practice and within a year I’ll have more than enough profits to purchase my own shop and..” he led on, “I remember the barn that I used to sneak into as a kid,” he smiled sheepishly and his grandfather too smirked. Grandmother did not.
“Well, I remember it never had anything more than some old yard-sale things in it and, really, I only need half of the space. I believe with some time, my men and I could organize all of your things into one half of the barn with no problem!” He was beaming now. It was the first time he’d expressed it out loud and he only now knew the success he held within, he now heard the suitability of his plan. “If you’d allow it, my men and I would reorganize the barn and move into the other half, never touching your things, never crossing the middle line, and within a year or less I’ll be out of your barn.” He paused. “Forever, if you like.”
He rested and watched. Surely, he thought.
Grandmother made no motion, her arms were folded and her mouth set in drawling frown.
His grandfather motioned for him to follow.
They walked to the barn where he slid open the giant doors, rolling on old steel rails, the wood shuddering as it reached a fully open state. What was seen was shocking. The barn was no longer littered with a few random things, here and there. It was completely filled. There were old wagons stacked on microwave ovens, children’s broken playhouses piled on top of stacks of tires and car parts. In one corner there were 19 ladders, all missing a rung or two.
He was in disbelief.
“Grandfather,” he stammered, “how?”
“Son,” the old man said, “we have gathered many things in our long lives. And indeed we have come to find value in things that many do not. Because we see the value that not everyone does, we hope to make a profit from a giant sale, someday. Besides, even though I do agree that you deserve some space here,” he gestured back towards the house with his head, “your grandmother would never allow me, she is as attached to the dusty, broken things you see here as she is to her own hands and feet.”
Looking across the yard at his grandmother he noticed how rigid she looked, how unbudging she stood. And though he tried, she never once considered letting go of the things in the barn so that her grandson may fulfill his dreams. She wanted to gain something great from the things and believed in each and every item so much that they’d become like children to her. Those things were her darlings because she believed each had potential. And thus she overlooked where the potential truly lay, not in that which fills the space, but the space itself.
Like grandmothers of the world, we too quite innocently hold ourselves back. There are signs and apparitions all around us, telling us what to do, see and experience so that we might become a little greater. But often, we are so filled with conceived plans and certainties of how things will work out so that we’ll finally be happy, we miss the chance to allow something new to have the space of something old. Because something looks so good and beautiful when it’s first conceived we often hold on to it so tightly that it becomes too dear to us to consider that something better is always out there. We are vessels of space crammed tight with a million space suits and no one in them to operate the controls; a ship filled with material and no soul.
There are a million thoughts a day, billions of little light bulbs floating in the clouds. Each of us can reach out and gain whichever ones we attract but often times we are trying to stuff too many light bulbs into a limited number of sockets. Our barns are full of old, repetitive, and even useless thoughts. If we can decide that the space in our barn is more valuable being spacious than full of old attachments, our lives will change forever. At that point we’ve recognized that God offers more value to us than anything we can hold on to, that if we can allow ourselves to simply be a space, that beauty and greatness can pass through, and not cling to every good idea or belief, we will begin to experience the true potential of our inner space, of our barn. We will witness as life transforms us from the inside and we’ll know through experience that we are more important filled with space than filled with old ideas and notions of woulds, coulds, and shoulds.
After the man I met told me more of his life story, about his marriages, his children, goals and dreams, I remembered something. I asked him whatever happen to the barn that he almost began a life changing business in. He smiled.
“It’s still there and every single thing that was there in 1994 remains, with my grandparents still living a few steps away.”
It broke my heart that someone could believe so strongly in something that they couldn’t see the beautiful potential of a young man and his dreams.
“I can at least say this,” he went on, “if my grand daughter ever wants to use my space for anything, she’ll have it.”
At least this man learned the beauty of space. I hope a million shattered strokes of the Mona Lisa flow through him and he witnesses the perfection of imperfection. I hope he is space itself, fulfilled by being filled and again empty, over and over.