The Things We Build


Insider Editor

In my babysitting days, I cared for a sweet, four-year-old boy. I remember one thing about Jack besides his red hair: he lived and breathed to tear things down. 

While his mother ran errands and went on long lunches with friends, we sat in the warm light streaming through the playroom window. There, we built things with colorful blocks: tall towers, castles, forts, pyramids and walls.

No sooner did we finish a creation, Jack balled his little fists and articulated a loud “ahhhhhh!” With punches and kicks, the walls came tumbling down. Gazing at the ruins with a look of gleeful satisfaction, he’d shout: “again!” 

We’d spend hours building. But he took only seconds to raze our projects to the floor. Jack never tired of the endless cycle of constructing and deconstructing. I began to appreciate why his mother enjoyed her long lunches.

I thought of Jack the other day as I made the trek from Seven Lakes to Southern Pines. The long-anticipated NC 211 expansion project cuts an increasingly wide swath down the thoroughfare, reducing familiar landmarks to rubble and relocating or closing favorite shops. 

Drivers dart curious glances while speeding past backhoes and bulldozers. Felled pines release their fragrance, filling vehicles like a giant air freshener. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer pollen producers irritating our sinuses.

The landscape changes before our eyes as walls come tumbling down — generations’ worth of buildings torn down in a matter of days.

 I’m sure there are mixed feelings about this. No one likes change. We love the familiar, even the unlovely bits. Maybe especially the unlovely bits. And the project is only getting started. Residents will be living with the mess this transition brings for years to come. 

At this point, it’s hard to grasp what we ultimately gain in exchange for the upheaval and inconvenience. More traffic or less traffic? More speed demons or more safety? Better infrastructure or sprawling development? We shall find out — down the ever-wider road. 

We may not be dealing in colorful, wooden blocks but we are living in real time the cycle of deconstruction and construction. It’s uncomfortable to be reminded that very few things in this world are permanent.

The seasons of life bring ruin and renovation, growth and decay, birth and death. We all face times when something old comes apart or a new thing flourishes. This is the way life keeps us on our toes. 

My young companion’s approach to this circuit of change was enthusiastic embrace. Up the walls go, down they fall. I remember feeling dismay when Jack dismantled an elaborate castle or fort. All that effort, wasted! There was hardly a moment to admire it.

But I don’t think that’s how Jack experienced it. A toppled tower gave him raw material for another creation. Seeing what he could build and break and build again was simply the wonderful work of creative play. 

Block-building with Jack did not make me an expert in construction. But he did teach me there is a time to build and time to destroy, and to hold both lightly.

If you are feeling uneasy about all the change, know that when in destruction mode, it helps to ball your fists and yell “ahhhhhh!”

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