This isn’t a blog about running or about F. M. Alexander (although I’ll write more about him soon). I think it’s about people and the meanings of what they leave behind.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I was traveling in northern Europe for three wonderful weeks, visiting many dear friends. Every day I discovered new adventures and new opportunities. I made up my own itinerary and traveled alone, so I had no one to please but myself—and only myself to rely on when problems came up, like the time my luggage and I got separated overnight. (Those hotel hair dryers work on clothes, too.)
One of my most memorable adventures was a visit to Salisbury, England, to see the beautiful and famous cathedral. The main building took 35 years to put up, between 1220 and 1258—fast for the thirteenth century. The tower was added later on, and the cathedral has an amazing but difficult guided tour of it.
Our guide unlocked the tower door and led about a dozen of us up many flights of winding steps—332 steps in all—which got steeper and narrower as we climbed. We paused at each level—the base of the stunning rose window; the roof of the main building, with beams made from whole tree trunks; the clock room, with possibly the oldest working clock in the world; the bell chamber, whose bells still ring the hours; and so on. Most of the original wooden support structures are still in place, with repairs and reinforcements made over the centuries. We could even see graffiti and tools left behind by some of the original builders—nearly all the work of building the cathedral was done by hand and with simple machines.
Finally we got to the base of the spire, about 225 feet up. One by one, we stepped out onto a narrow walkway to see breathtaking views of Salisbury and the surrounding countryside spread out below us almost all the way around the tower. (A pair of peregrine falcons have set up housekeeping on the east side and have raised several batches of chicks, so no one is allowed to disturb them.)
Back in the topmost chamber, our guide pointed out one of the most important machines the builders left behind—the donkey wheel, about 8 feet in diameter, that they used to raise wood, stone blocks, and other materials from the ground. (Actually, it was probably operated by people, not donkeys.) As they completed one level of the tower, they moved the wheel up to the next stage. When the spire above was finished, the builders didn’t need the wheel any more—so they simply left it in place.
For some reason, this humble wooden machine struck me as the most human thing I’d seen all day. More than all the glories of stone and stained glass and wood around us, the wheel took me back in time. It was easy to imagine ordinary men and women planning, thinking, living, eating, working to make this magnificent place a reality.
I wonder if our minds work the same way. When we construct the inner cathedrals of our dreams, hopes, fears, do we leave those tools in place? What happens to those tools when we’re done with them? Can we pick them up again after many years of disuse?
When we finished the trip back downstairs, we each got a little pin signifying that we had completed the tower tour. But the memory of that wheel, still in place after so many centuries, will be my real reward.
Please feel free to send me any questions or comments you might have. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Meanwhile, happy running!