November 10, 2004

Walls Separate Us, But They Also Connect Us

by Les MacFarlane

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
-- Albert Einstein

The process of reflecting on our lives known as Naikan can help us seethe miracles of life and reveal how connected we are to one another. The more we immerse ourselves in such reflection, the more new paths and questions arise that reveal the intricate web of interdependence we all share.

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During a session, while a student was telling me about her Naikan reflection, she mentioned that she had received shelter from the walls of her home. An excellent point and one that I had seldom thought of. Walls, however, are a big part of our lives, or at least my life. Recently, I had the opportunity to build some walls with my father-in-law and saw the immense effort and sacrifice that goes into
keeping people warm, dry and comfortable. Here are some things I learned about walls.

In order to get started obtaining supplies is essential and one that is made easy by the effort of literally numberless beings. It is quite remarkable to think that people used to cut the trees down, cut the logs for the home and build their homes without electricity or the convenience of a hardware/lumber store. It is a wonderful gift to be able to drive a couple of minutes and pick up wood and supplies of anydescription.


While there are now steel studs for construction most people still use two by fours for building the frame of their walls and are one of the first supplies to be sought out. To begin with when we get to the lumber yard the wood has been forested from trees that sacrifice their lives. Once the trees get to the mill, they are cut into two by fours. However, that is not the end of the process because the two by fours are then dressed. Dressing is a process that involves thickness planing the faces and edges of the two by four so that they look the way people like. This results in two by fours actually being 3.2 by 1.2's. The wood is then loaded, transported, unloaded and sold, a process that involves thousands of people. This amazing amount of sacrifice and effort is simply the work that goes into the two by fours. There is little doubt that the processes for the nails, sheathing materials, drywall, drywall screws, drills, hammers, levels, carpenter squares, the various saws and other elements used in building a wall, are equally as complicated and important.

Once the supplies are at the house, a frame needs to be built. The frame is the skeleton of the wall. It is constructed in sections -- one wall at a time. The pieces are nailed together ensuring that the studs are exactly 16 or 24 inches away from each other, on center. That means that the middle of one stud is 16 inches from the center of the next stud.This makes sheathing easier and gives a strong wall. This process requires attention. The distances must be marked accurately and the studs must be nailed in the proper place. For most of us, someone we don't even know paid attention to this to ensure that our house is strong and set to standard measurements so that we are safe.

Once the electrical, plumbing, and insulation work is done in the wall, drywall is installed. Drywall is a large sheet (often 4' x 8') ofgypsum. It is heavy and requires strength and skill to put up. I have never met anyone, except a professional, who enjoys putting up drywall.

Once the sheets of drywall are cut to size and attached to the frame,
the seams need to be covered with tape and a drywall compound known as "mud". The mud is allowed to dry and is then sanded to create the wall's flat, smooth appearance. There is little doubt in my mind that the people who do this "mudding, taping and sanding" are true artists. Professional drywallers use just the right amount of mud so that there is little sanding to do. The drywallers are subject to inhaling a great deal of dust and often wear masks because it is unhealthy to inhale the dust. In essence, this means that someone has risked his or her health in order for us to have walls.

Walls are then papered or painted, trimmed and generally finished. When most of us walk in a home the walls are seamless and the work and skill is invisible. They can become just the background. But these walls are the result of hours of training, practice and sacrifice. It is much like the Zen saying "When the shoe fits, we forget about the shoe".

As I write this piece early morning in November, I occasionally look out my window. There is snow and ice on the ground, yet I sit here in a t-shirt as I write. The walls of this house, made by someone I don't know, are what separates me and my family from the cold. Thanks walls for keeping me dry and warm. Thanks to the framers, insulators,
drywallers, drivers and sales people. While it may seem strange to many people to thank the walls and those people, when it comes down to it, the difference between having a home and being homeless is walls.

Reprinted from
Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living

Posted on November 10, 2004 4:12 PM
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