Everything that he did for the project that summer—mixing the mortar by hand; tap-tap-shaping the stones to fit just right; washing his tools at the end of each day—he did deliberately, carefully, completely, and very well.
Brizio hailed from Cossogno, a small Alpine village overlooking Lago Maggiore in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Cossogno is renowned for producing some of the finest stone masons in the world. When Brizio and his brother immigrated to the US, they initially took work as masons helping to build Yosemite National Park’s Curry Village.
Chi va piano e sano, va Lontano, was his favorite counsel to me: Who goes slowly and wisely, goes a long way. It’s an expression that brings to mind the benefits of purpose, care, and vision. It certainly defined the way he went about his work.
I was at my grandfather’s side throughout most of his days working on the stone wall. Amidst the seeming chaos of the setting: fieldstones of varying sizes and pieces scattered about among emptied bags of mortar mix; a pile of sand here, lengths of steel rebar there; a garden hose snaked around the base of the wheelbarrow from which awkwardly protruded the long wooden handle of a shovel—there also emerged a sense of order. Looking down the length of the completed portion of the wall revealed a beautiful and fully integrated finished product: each stone fixed in harmony among its mates, together topped with a flat-surfaced layer of concrete where, for years to follow, would sit countless family and friends while enjoying the garden and each other.
Focusing on the area under current construction, though, exposed an entirely different scene: one of dis-order, the jagged-edged stones appearing to reach out, almost beseeching the universe for a sense of completion, or relationship with a partner with which to become integrated and, securely in relationship, thus completed; bulging mounds of over-poured mortar in varying stages of hardening; chunks of the earthen hillside cascading down, awaiting—fighting against?—the portion of the structure yet-to-be-built that would retain its gravitational imperative. The key operating system that kept all this activity relevant and purposeful was the vision of the completed structure, like an exercise in hope.
I’ve come to learn that in relationships and in business, there are always elements of the known and the unknown, of what is completed and what is still under construction. What I’ve found to be true is that an approach defined by purpose, care, and clear vision serves well. You have an idea of how the relationship might go; or of how a particular strategy or tactic might serve your company priorities and goals. You implement, and act on your idea and plan. You experience approximations of success, or not. You course-correct and adjust and adapt next actions based on that experience in a continuous spiral of planning, acting, adjusting, and achieving.
To this day, the aroma of wet concrete evokes a clear memory of the work my grandfather did during that summer of my early childhood. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, that experience was formative of some guiding principles for me. The same purpose and care that characterized my grandfather’s movements that summer; a compelling vision of what is not yet, but can be; along with persistence and hope, make an almost irresistible combination that can lead to enduring success, or at least to going a long way!