The usual busy street in the center of this small town was eerily quiet. Except for the birds and the distant sound of the re-routed traffic, one would have thought the place was deserted. Not a person was in sight. It was like a ghost town.
That’s what tearing up the main street in a small town will do. The bulldozers were motionless in the early evening, when I found my bench along the cordoned sidewalk. The pavement had been stripped away, revealing pale, rough dirt, bleached by the summer sun. The whole street seemed to be holding its breath. I kept waiting for Clint Eastwood to deliberately saunter down the center of it, spurs jangling.
The next day, I found myself thinking about excavation in an entirely new light. I was sitting on a bench outside of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, anticipating a walk through its impressive displays of antiquities with my daughter. Archeology is excavation with a different purpose. It digs to unearth treasures. Excavation unearths to rebuild.
There are situations in life that expose what is under our workday demeanor. I don’t know if any of us enjoy the experience. It’s a rare person who wants to see what impatience or pettiness or selfishness lurks beneath the road we’ve built for speed and volume. But it’s a wise person who recognizes the benefit of having a view down through the layers. The excavator knows that a good foundation makes a solid street. The archeologist knows the treasures are subterranean.
It’s like a peanut. Or so says an ancient African proverb.
In the museum, I found a display of brass weights, made to balance against gold dust in transactions in ancient North Africa. In a delightful spin of creativity, these artisans decided to sculpt their weights into visual reminders of guiding proverbs. Though it was the least impressive sculpture, a brass peanut caught my eye because of the proverb it represented:
“Marriage is like a groundnut; you must crack it to see what’s inside.”
The explanation of the proverb said that it meant that one can’t know until one tries. But I see a connection to digging. There are situations that put pressure on us – whether in a marriage or not – and only that pressure can get to what matters. The shell is nothing. The peanut is the prize.
I feel very much that I’m going through an excavation right now. Digging to the foundation. Trying to get to the prize. There is an expectation in the process that makes the tough going easier. Back to the abandoned street: laying right in front of me, unnoticed for some time, was a hose curled between two potted plants. I like that hose. It tells me that someone is not just enduring the repaving. He or she has the end insight – when people will once again walk along the sidewalk and enjoy the blossoms. Call it a hose of hope.
In all this, there is a purpose to the upheaval. An end to the trouble. A better road. A treasure to hold.