From 1950 to 1990, my Dad worked in the oil fields of West Texas. In those first 20 years or so, he rarely had a day off. Regardless of how hot, how cold, how windy or how sick he might’ve been, he got up at 4:30, grabbed a lunchpail that mom had packed the night before, got in his pickup and headed out. Day after day. This was his life.
John Mays’ dad stands next to his pickup truck, holding his lunch pail, on his way to work in the oil fields of West Texas.
This work fed our family and raised my sisters and me, but it left little time for much else. The oil field is a merciless taskmaster; but somehow Dad endured with a generosity of spirit and sense of humor that left a legacy.
I’m not really sure which came first – either Dad mentally came to the end of doing that thing one more day, or his body just gave out on him. Maybe it was some of both, but around the end of the 80s, he was done; and we had the great privilege of providing a place for both Dad and Mom as they lived out the rest of their lives with us here in Tennessee. Those were great days. My Dad loved them and we loved being able to watch him discover life after the oil patch.
One of those discoveries came as a surprise as we watched Dad begin to tinker around out in the shed. Who knew what he was messing around with until one day he sheepishly showed us the fruit of the creative seed that had been laying fallow in him for so long.
I know. It doesn’t look like much, but for a man who had never made a thing with his hands his entire life, it was impressive. And you could put your weight down on it!
He began making benches all the time. Sometimes one or two a day. We had benches everywhere (and still do!). We gave them to neighbors and friends, people at work and church. Literally, these benches were the ultimate in simplicity – some two-by-fours and some nails. No paint, no sanding, no nothing. But for me, there was something beautiful about them as they represented something profound… my Dad’s ability to create.
He passed away in 2007 leaving a lot of love and a lot of benches behind. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
A few summers ago we were blessed with the experience of giving away our daughter Kelsey in marriage. For anyone who’s been part of planning a wedding, you can empathize with the year of work that proceeds the big day. Lucky for me, this planning lived mostly in a female world so I didn’t have to get too involved. So you might imagine my surprise when I learned that much of the focus of the wedding decorations would come from an unlikely place. Dad’s benches.
Kelsey worked with Dianne (my wife) and our friend Terri to begin to imagine what beautiful things could come from adding to these ordinary benches, and I was stunned to see the results.
Here’s what I hope you start to see. Dad’s benches alone wouldn’t have been much as a decoration piece. And the flowers and vines could’ve been just another floral arrangement. But had Dad never had the courage to create and show that first piece of his “art”, the girls wouldn’t have had such a special foundation for theirs.
As Brenda Ueland wrote in the very special book “If You Want To Write” – “Everyone is talented, original and has something important to say.” Everyone. And the expression of your unique gifting is something important for you to not only discover, but to share with someone. Once that happens, you may be blown away with what someone else’s personal expression can add to yours, or what you can add to theirs. What someone’s lyric might bring to your melody. Someone’s seasoning to your recipe. Someone’s music for your dance. Someone’s frame to your decorating. Someone’s second step to your first.
“Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say.”
Creating and expressing anything can, of course, at times be a very isolating and lonely journey, and for some of you, maybe that is how it will be. But for others, perhaps especially for those of you still wishing to, but yet to actually create, collaboration might be the key to the door, and might just produce something you could’ve never imagined on your own.
A few things to remember…
1. You’re never too old to start. Mark Twain, William Butler Yeats, Alfred Hitchcock and Irving Berlin all produced their greatest work after turning Fifty. (Dad was 74 when he built his first bench!)
2. What the object of your creative impulse might be is not as important as your willingness to express it. The thing you create, your work, will get better over time, but the point is to start, then share. Like Dad, this is a part of how you will love the world around you.
3. That inner voice of resistance will always be there to criticize and condemn. Create anyway. “If the voice inside you says you can not paint, then by all means paint and the voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh
What could you bring in to the world this week that didn’t exist before you created it? What could you bring to something someone else has created? If you need some time to sit and think about it, I’ve got a great bench for you.