I wrote yesterday about the task of reconstructing one’s ego when it has been fractured early in life, and this morning, i got a lovely message from someone named Crystal, she liked the post, and she wrote “you are a cathedral builder.”
The message struck a chord in me, and I remembered that this idea of building a cathedral was something I had heard before but forgotten. It was a parable, I recalled, and then found, about a traveler who came upon three men who were laboring.
He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks and would be glad at the end of the day.
He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall and was tired and eager for the work day to end.
He got to the third man and he asked him the same question, but this man looked up smiling, and said “I’m building a cathedral.”
There are numerous websites devoted to this quote and its inspirational history and meaning, it is a favorite among motivational speakers. No one knows where it came from, but many spiritualists and life coaches seem to have found and embraced it.
The parable was even quoted by Harvard University President Drew Faust during a motivational lecture at the Harvard Business School.
“The third stonecutter,” she told the business students, “embraces a broader vision. Interesting, I think, that the parable has him building a cathedral – not a castle or a railway station or a skyscraper..The very menial work of becomes part of a far larger undertaking, a spiritual as well as a physical construction. The project aspires to the heavens, transcending the earthbound – and indeed transcending the time bound as well, for cathedrals are built not in months or even years, but over centuries.”
I was surprised to see this much-loved and quoted parable used in relationship to me and to my life.
I was flattered, and also wary, I am not often moved by motivational speeches at Harvard aimed most frequently at helping people make more money. It seems something of a contradiction.
The Harvard Business School is not known for turning out creativity visionaries who seek to help the poor. They are better known for killer-sharp Hedge Fund Managers who clap politely at speeches urging them to find their better angels, and then go out and rape and pillage.
Online, I saw that businesses use the parable to encourage their sales forces to think more broadly, or as President Faust might say, to “embrace a broader vision,” a/k/a, get even richer by claiming that making money is the noblest of callings if you think broadly.
The truth is, skepticism aside, I would be lying if I didn’t love the comparison and accept its truth and meaning for me. I am building a cathedral, I am not just laying bricks.
I believe Crystal spotted something very important in me, something I don’t often recognize in myself. I am trying to build a cathedral, a cathedral life. Stone by stone, just like the stone cutters, and with gratitude and meaning and joy, just like the third workman.
For some years now, I have been pursuing a broader vision of my life. I am not just here to exist and pay the mortgage and go to the pharmacy every other week. I am not just here to make money. I am not just here to lay bricks and salt money away for my old age, I am not her to shout at the left or the right or stew in the juices of cable news.
Every refugee I touch or help, every Mansion resident i reach out to and bring some comfort and compassion to is a stone, and in this sense I am a stone cutter, taking the trowel to one stone at a time, building something bigger and more important than me.
But I can’t wait to do my work, and find great joy in it every day. Blessed are those who love their work, for they are few and often alone.
I have a bigger vision than surviving, I want to look forward to more than going home when my work is done, I wish to commit small acts of great kindness and feel better about myself each time I do. I am putting my busted ego back together one piece at a time, learning how to live meaningfully in a conflicted world, to find and accept love, to stand in my truth, and also in the shoes of others.
Fame and riches are nothing, I am seeking to build a life of openness, patience, listening and receptivity, solitude and thoughtfulness. That is my cathedral. I’m not just laying bricks.