The Beauty of Ordinary Things

I was taking my dog Sam for a walk to Central Park early this morning when I passed an old painter’s ladder that some workman had thrown away and so help me, I coveted it. If I was 20 — make that 30 — years younger I would have grabbed it then and there and carried it home — destined for my small farmhouse in Bridgehampton, Long Island, where I once collected old farm tools that I purchased at yard sales. But the farm house is long gone and even the rustiest, most elegant of old 1940s ladders will not fit in my NYC office these days. But I coveted it. I longed for it. I studied it — wracking my brain for a place for it — but the brain refused to provide an answer. The elegance of its parts, the paint spattered wood, it was Jackson Pollack with a purpose. Like me, it had seen better days. But that did not make it any less desirable as I stood there near Park Avenue, Sam the Lab looking up at me as if to say “What is that nut thinking of doing now?” But that damned ladder kept saying, “Take me home. We are made for each other.” And then I recalled that my wife and I are trying to rid ourselves of all the unnecessary stuff we have collected over the years — to keep only what is essential — like one good set of dishes, a good set of legs to walk on, one cat and one dog, and a good set of friends to see us through this life.

 
 

Inside the park I saw the beginning of spring — the buds doing their best to break out into an array of color. Now I know that my chance to see the pyramids of Giza, a boyhood dream, or the wild giraffe of Africa, are beyond impractical. But the extraordinary gift of life is that which we lose in big ways we gain in small ways that add up to big ways. That ladder, the beauty of an old button, the head of a puppy, that really old Louis Armstrong recording we haven’t heard in years that just popped out of the radio, the finely etched character of the sons and grandchildren and friends I love reassure me that there is a world of goodness — despite the Caligulas who want to preside over us — and that the old ladder, soon to make its way into the sanitation pickup, lived a useful life. My old literature teacher would call that a pathetic fallacy, my giving inanimate objects, even flowers, a human character — but the more humans become objects, the easier I find it to admire the beauty of that abandoned and lovely ladder.

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