Carpentry…. embodies the emotional: celebration, contemplation, mystery, and grief.
It is an art that is solitary and communal, one that transcends time and outlives us.
~Yusuf Komunyakaa from “Honor Thy Hands”
Wes Meyer learned how to build new things and repair old things from his carpenter dad, Pete, working side by side for many years. Although Wes was a magician with hammer and nails, taking raw materials and creating something beautiful and functional, his true artistry was when he was able to take something broken or failing and make it new. By never giving up on finding a solution to a problem, no matter how hard it was to fix, he transcended the limits and boundaries of others saying something was “too old to bother.”
Our almost 100 year old church building presented perpetual challenges to enhance Wes’ often solitary restoration skills, whether it was a leaking roof that required scaling the steep slopes, spraying a hornets’ nest in the belfry, replacing missing siding after a windstorm, sweeping up the glass from a window broken by vandals or a broken tree branch, or mopping up after the annual basement flooding when the rains fell too long and hard. He became our unofficial ambassador to the often wary county Planning Department, diplomatically negotiating permits for various repair projects and a fellowship hall expansion. At the annual congregational meeting, when it came his turn to report on the volunteer Buildings and Grounds Committee activities for the year, he would take off his ball cap, lean over the podium, look out at the rest of us non-carpenters, and say, “this building is really old!” and wearily shake his head. But rather than suggest a tear-down and start-over, he would outline a list of projects he had tackled in the previous year and what he figured would need doing the coming year and how much the materials would likely cost. He made it “our” communal duty to keep our church building glued together for the next generation and the next. The building needs to outlive us.
Wes, like any excellent craftsman, made sure it outlived him.
When he was diagnosed with acute leukemia 30 months ago, he had no problem turning his failing bone marrow over to the oncologists to fix and make new. He understood the process of patching up something that was broken, and that sometimes in the middle of a repair, things can look and feel worse than they were before, but you have to keep your eyes on the goal. With the support of his loving wife and daughter and an almost-man star athlete son who had grown far taller and stronger than his dad, and a remarkable extended family, Wes took on the cancer like yet another major remodel. He and his medical team gutted the leukemia cells with chemotherapy and rebuilt anew with his brother’s stem cells. It was a difficult repair and his body, like a customer demanding too many change orders, wasn’t all that keen on accepting the new cells. Wes and his doctors worked hard trying to address the new demands. It felt like a job that would never be done — all he wanted was to move on to other projects.
Sometimes even the best remodel has problems; sometimes the fissure in the foundation is just too wide, or the weight-supporting beams have hidden dry rot. Wes’ bone marrow harbored cancer cells that eventually reemerged and the next chemotherapy step was like falling into an old well hole with no ladder. He couldn’t climb out, his body too damaged, the burden too heavy, his time running out. A few days ago he was brought out of that deep pit to be home near his family and friends. Unlike his thriving church building, Wes was not nearly old enough to die last night, but he did. Sometimes the tear-down is necessary to build something even more beautiful and glorious. We all await that moment with trembling.
Those hands of his must be needed elsewhere, working on projects that last for eternity. No more repairs needed.