A True Work of Art

A True Work of Art

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

A True Work of Art

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.

John Ruskin

All twelve of us huddled around a wooden post. I bent over the hole underneath the post, stirring cement mix and water, a piece of lumber for mixing in my hands, and the rocky New England dirt beneath my sneakers. I was in my third summer of work camp. Each summer my church’s youth group traveled to a different city to help with various projects. The summer of 2003 we were in Ithaca, New York. Everyone in my crew (ten eager teenagers and two adult supervisors) was from a different state. I was the only non-New Englander. Even though I made a point to say that my hometown was in Northern Virginia, to them, I was the “Southern Belle.”

My work crew was assigned to build an eight-by-twelve deck behind a tiny trailer for an older woman, Betty, who struggled to maneuver around her property. The long, jagged scars across her knees proved to me that just standing up caused her excruciating pain. When Betty introduced herself to us, her warm smile radiated gratitude.

We were twelve amateur carpenters at best, and the blueprints for our deck were simple, but the beauty of the deck was not in its structure, but in the emotion behind it. Blood and sweat went into the carpentry, and in my eyes, this work of art was just as fine as any of the Wonders of the World. My work crew began its construction as strangers, and we hammered the last nails as close friends.

During the week, I made an effort to befriend people I never would have met under normal circumstances. We prayed hand-in-hand with one another and with Betty. A robust and outspoken seventeen-year-old boy would squeeze my right hand, as a meager and timid fourteen-year-old girl held on to my right.

Complaints never slipped, even on our last workday when humid rain bathed our nearly completed deck. The boys with more tool experience always offered encouraging words to the girls who were operating power tools for the first time. I couldn’t help but smile whenever I watched one sweet and poised girl, Amanda, rev up a powerful circular saw. Behind her work goggles, her eyes exuded newfound confidence.

When we finished building our eight-by-twelve masterpiece, all twelve of us stepped back to admire our work. One girl, Alicia, squealed with delight, while the youngest boy, Bernie, sighed with relief. Rachel looked down at her thigh, an open wound still evident from falling against a screw, and laughed good-naturedly at the memory.

I climbed onto the deck and jumped on it, testing its strength. When Betty saw our masterpiece, she wiped a tear from her eye. Twelve had come to her home every day for the past week with the express purpose of serving her.

I left Betty’s home on our last day with high hopes for our deck’s durability. I knew my memories of that week would also be everlasting. All the building materials were necessary for the creation of the structure, but the love and the willingness that went into it were even more crucial. The deck was a symbol of twelve strangers looking past geographical, economic, and superficial status to befriend one another and a disadvantaged woman.

Without a doubt, that week I gained a lot of carpentry knowledge. I learned the correct place to grip a hammer and to make sure a wooden post was level in the ground before securing it with cement. But most important, I learned that something doesn’t have to be displayed in a museum for it to be a work of art.

Ashley Claire Simpson

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