The Space Between


It starts with just a brick. One after another, the bricks are stacked along a single line that’s been drawn in the gritty dirt. From your window you can see the empty lot, the hole in the ground, and the yellow plastic ribbon that stretches from one stake in the ground to others.  There are men in dusty hard hats drinking coffee from paper cups and pointing at clip boards. Then comes the cement truck and men who like to yell orders to each other as they spoon a warm bed of cement over another row of bricks.

How long it takes for the wall to come up to the first set of windows seems like months. The building process is dusty, loud, and inconvenient.  Then seemingly all of a sudden, light begins to change. A wall–a new wall of red brick– reaches past the first floor window frame of your building and threatens to block out all the windows.

Weeks pass and all that you took for granted–the view from the second floor to the intersection and its cross-hatch of thick black wires on telephone poles–is threatened. Bit by bit, your open sky is edged out by a beast of building.

When construction stops and the last of the electricians and ladder crews leave, the neighborhood rushes to investigate the new building. There are office spaces for rent and a Coffee Bean on the first floor. For weeks there are traffic jams and squealing horns. It’s as if people have never seen a cup of coffee before.

Three floors of sunlight and sunset pinks are gone and you stop by the coffee shop in hopes that they’ll give you free cups of coffee for a year because they stole your sunshine and your view without every really asking–but they never do. There is no free pass for neighbors. The teenage workers nod their baseball-capped heads and shrug their rounded shoulders when you complain about the banging of their industrial trash bin against their new wall of new brick.

A year goes by.

One day the promise to never buy a cup of coffee from the neighbors is forgotten. You run out of organic beans from your friend the coffee roaster, and buy a latte. The next week, you feel reckless and fill a paper cup with milk from the coffee station and take it home for the pot of coffee you brewed yourself. They owe me this, you tell yourself as you spoon the whole milk into your cup.

Another years passes. The view that you once held so dear slides into the memory file. You buy lamps and hang cheery pictures and find ways to bring light the spaces where it used to come to you without effort.

Then one morning, you remember how things used to be. You step outside to take a good look at where your view once was and where a new brick building now stands.

There’s a cushion of space between the two buildings. A pocket of air cushions painted white brick from its dusty new neighbor. There isn’t much distance between the two buildings–maybe just enough for a small woman’s pinky or a thin rope to be pulled from one side to another–but just barely.

It’s odd how a building could bring all sorts of change to your life and yet it never did touch a thing. Big walls go up, new structures are built, but not a thing changed to the outside of your home. All the change happened within.

That gets you to thinking about all the things that have changed in your life. In two years time you’ve taken the steps to live life in a whole new way. You’ve transformed yourself through action and better thinking.    It’s an inside job, you’ve heard people say, and it’s true. Dramatic change can happen just like that–slowly and steadily. Incremental and gradual.

And just like that, the space expands. You see that you haven’t lost a view, you’ve gained a new perspective.

For the first time in years, you’re happy that big red brick building went up just outside your window. You’re grateful.

3 comments

  1. Sharmila

    In my day job, I spend a lot of my time figuring out where those lines go and drawing them on paper. We file all sorts of environmental impact reports on how our new building will affect the neighbourhood. Sadly, it is hard to make everybody happy, though the intention is truly there.
    This is such a beautifully written essay. So happy to read your writing again.

  2. kelly

    my appreciation for this piece is two-fold:

    one. the writing is beautiful and i love the shift in tone–from longer, rambly, stream of conscious frustration to separate, composed thoughts as process and change perspective.

    two. my perspective has needed a good shake for a while. i keep looking at things in my life as impediments, hindering my view of what i thought i should be looking at. this post was a reminder to take a closer look and appreciate what’s in front of me without resentment. thank you :]

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