25 Reflections: Working with What Is

One thing that has impressed me about French cities and landscapes is that there is a deep respect for the history of the place. When someone wants to build something new, they don’t simply tear down what was there before, but rather, they work with what already exists.

In the first photo above, this store was built right up against the medieval outer wall of the city. In the second photo, this crazy-shaped house was built in the space available at the time–and even though it is unorthodox as far as houses go, it is embraced and still lovingly cared for today.

These stairs in the photo on the left were carved directly into the stone of the hillside in the village of Crest–you can even see fossils and shell fragments in the stone from thousands of years ago! And in the second photo, you can see how villagers in my beloved Kaysersberg have worked with the what remains of the old castle wall when creating their homes.

Examples of this kind of thing are everywhere. It is part of what gives Europe its charm. And what I love about it is that not only is the age of the structures embraced, but so are the imperfections–the cracks, the mismatched stone, the sagging walls.

The big white building in the photo above is called the Maison des Tanneurs (House of Tanners). It is located in Strasbourg. It is an old tannery–orignally built in 1572. When you look at it up close, the roof slopes, the walls are uneven, the shape is odd. And also it is one of the highlights of the city.

These old cities and structures have taught me that in life it is important to first accept what is, and then build from there. What you start with may not be what you wanted or what you would have chosen, but if you can find a way to work with what is, you can create something lovely and special. Sometimes it may be necessary to tear things down and start over–sometimes things are simply not salvageable. But if it is possible to embrace your story and your situation as you evolve, I predict there will be a lot of beauty there to love–even if (and maybe especially because) it’s imperfect. Because in that imperfection there is authenticity. And there is nothing that is more beautiful than that.

For more about authenticity, check out When Niceness Isn’t Nice.