A few years ago, a friend of mine spent some time in Berlin. One of the things he talked about, besides of course the stark remnants of the Wall and the brick street inlay that tracks its Cold War footprint, primal and divisive, through the city, was the construction and the citywide clashes of new and old architecture, ornate 19th century townhouses neighbored with Brutalist structures and sleek and gleaming 21st century quarters; it was a fascinating and revealing mix of history and vision, a testament and telling of all that we are.
And he was fascinated by something else, a practice he had never seen: along some of the more busy thoroughfares, new construction was wrapped in 3D skins, a detailed image of the building underneath, an extraordinary picture of the future. From even a short distance, the skyline seemed complete; and it was only up close that the mirage disappeared and a clever cover-up exposed. All is not what it seems took on new meaning… whether to mark a place or present a reality or fool the eye, or all of the above, the images were astounding, a temporal visage of permanence.
The construction of anything takes time. Even before a foundation, especially in our constant wrestle with those damned mid-state veins of Yazoo clay, we have to dig deep to prepare for even the most modest building. Then the core, the engineer’s internal bones of the architect’s external sculpture, must be assembled carefully and without compromise, and only then comes the final wrapping, the surface of achievement and esthetic place.
Nothing built happens in a day. The easiest part of the process is in the mind, in the original picture, either decided in deep genius or flash, in the inspired moment of formation. For the creator, the joy comes early on in the process of creation, exponentially heightened through time and effort, until we all see what was first imagined.
The skin of our existence is only the surface, the truth is deep within the design of our lives. We can hint at the internal, the essential core of us, with outward marking and distinctions: hairstyle and clothing, jewelry and tattoo. We can also hide that core in much the same fashion, accessorize a ruse of reality and perception: makeup and coloring, swathe and smile. Sometimes we wrap ourselves for protection: put on a happy face in the midst of despair and challenge; or frivolity: drape a lean frame in finery; or deception: hide a simple and rustic truth in cosmopolitan boots.
To the dissembling end of surface, Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “That one may smile and smile and be a villain.” But he also said, in The Tempest, “We are such stuff, as dreams are made on.” While we can amend the narrative and picture of our lives, the ultimate image and impact is in the core of memory. We are our best selves in foundation, in our relation to the truths of others, in the hope and vision left after the remnants of wrappings have been swept away. Do we need wait until sleep, as the Poet says, or can we do more now and every day? You know my answer: while we are together, in promise and revelation, is the time when we should unwrap and reveal and give the gift that is our better nature, our greater reality, our truer self.
An unwrapped gift is all expectation, a temporary cover on something tangible, solid and certain inside. It is on us, all of us, to make the gift more rich, more assuring and more hopeful than the wrapping.