Hayley Minar '23
The Bromfield School, Harvard, Massachusetts
Like most teenagers, I am expected to do household chores I would rather avoid. I do my share of feeding the dogs and mowing the lawn, but growing up in a two hundred and thirty-four-year-old tavern has meant that my experiences and responsibilities go well beyond the usual fare—like when I discovered my cats meowing and leaping at two chimney swifts that had fallen down the fireplace and were frantically circling my room. Once, during a Nor’Easter, I woke up to find that snow was blowing through the seams of the house’s original window panes. I swept up the little, swirling drifts on my bedroom floor, taped up the windows, and went back to bed. It was in times like these that I was just a bit envious of my friends’ newer, weathertight homes, but deep inside, I knew I would not trade sleeping in extra layers in my quirky, old Harvard, Massachusetts home for any other place.
Since my parents bought it as a fixer-upper, I am often recruited to work on projects like glazing windows, spackling sheetrock, and painting rooms. This past summer, I begrudgingly agreed to help repair the mortar joints in the fieldstone foundation of our basement. I hauled an eighty-pound bag of cement and mixed it with water into a peanut butter-like consistency. I grabbed a gob from the wheelbarrow and got to work stuffing it into the deep crevices between the jumble of stones, troweling it smooth and brushing it to create a finished texture. The hours spent working, much of it on my hands and knees, gave me a lot of time for self-reflection. Undisturbed by text messages or buzzing FaceTime requests, I allowed my mind to wander to the far reaches of my imagination in the quiet solitude of the cellar. Sometimes I reflected on what I should have said in a conversation with a friend, thought through an argument around a current political issue, or pondered ways to frame my essays for summer reading assignments.
Working with my hands, I appreciated the art of forming and sculpting the cement into place, realizing that it was just as creative a process as writing, editing and reworking my essays and poems. It was an iterative and tiring process to get it right. Dripping with sweat, the grinding physical effort from having to work quickly before the cement hardened mirrored my exhaustion in a race I had rowed in last year— although the weather conditions had been very different. At the Head of the Fish Regatta, I had rowed for three miles through the cold, driving rain, facing a fifteen miles-per-hour headwind—feeling as if my arms and legs were on fire—in order to finish.
Good mortaring requires technical precision, speed and strength. I needed to mix the mortar in the correct proportions; work carefully so I did not miss any gaps; and most of all, I needed to persevere, working until the entire wall was repointed. Eventing requires a similar mastery of multiple skills in order to succeed in the three distinct phases of competition. In dressage, my buckskin horse Eli and I needed to work together as one, in calm precision and balance; in show jumping, we needed the focus and technical skills to count strides and launch at the right moment; and in cross-country, we needed the strength and endurance to gallop several miles over fences, across ditches, and through water obstacles.
Whether handling a bucket of wet cement or a green horse, I recognized that having the patience and determination to keep improving despite hardship, tedium or discomfort was essential to reach any mental or physical goal, be it winning a competition, writing an essay or rebuilding a wall. Standing back from the finished fieldstone wall, I basked in the accomplishment—not just of finishing the chore—but of discovering the zen in the art of mortar maintenance.