A scene from one of the street battles in Ukraine last February has stuck with me. Those who opposed to the soon-to-be-ousted president took up arms. When they ran out of ammunition, they bent down and pulled up the paving bricks in the roads, then flung them at the opposing troops.
The roads that had once brought their society together were being disassembled in a war that was pulling the nation apart.
Isn’t that a metaphor for all of us? And a challenge?
In a sense, each of us is given our own stack of bricks. We don’t ask for our bricks. We do nothing to earn them. They’re entrusted to us by the potter who makes them.
And it’s up to us to decide how to use them. We have many, many choices.
We can fling our bricks at one another and draw blood. Or we can lay them side-by-side with the bricks of others and build a road that draws us together.
We can spend our lives building a tiny silo and trying to live within its very narrow space. Or we can construct stairs that provide everyone a way to reach new heights.
We can produce great walls that seal us off from one another. Or we can build grand structures that shelter and protect many of us together.
We can feel weighed down by the bricks and simply drop them from our hands, leaving them unused and wasted. Or we can envision something in our mind’s eye and start to create it brick by brick, even though we’re not entirely sure of the blueprint.
Each of us has a brick in our hands right now. What shall we do with it?
All of those options and more are being chosen in the world at any given time. To be honest, each of us does a little bit of each at various points in our lives. We stack bricks and we knock them down. We pave roads and we tear them up. Ideally, we grow into builders. We stop flinging and start paving.
As we build, we become adept at finding new and creative ways to use the bricks. We invent things the world has never seen. When we think we’ve used up our entire pile of bricks, the potter brings us another load. And another.
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that there will always be those who oppose the building-up process. “I believe,” he said, “that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered men can build up.”
Those who are committed and constructive with the bricks — even as others keep trying to tear down — are the ones who ultimately take us to new places.
They’re the ones who build a new world.