Look Closer, Friend


I toured an elementary school for work recently. The Principal guided me down long, locker-lined hallways, pointing out cracks in the walls, roof leaks, damaged floor tiles. At the end of the hallway were the kindergarten and Pre-K classrooms. We entered the first and the teacher eagerly showed us the problem: the north wall of her classroom, an exterior wall, was covered in mold. The maintenance crew had scraped the mold, covered the area with Kilz and re-painted at the beginning of the school year, but it was already coming back. A dehumidifier ran constantly, collecting so much moisture from the room it had to be piped to the outside because they couldn’t dump it fast enough. Her eyes were pleading. Did I have a better solution?

I explained to her that the mold was a result of moisture leaking in through the exterior brick and block wall, and simply treating the mold did not address the root cause. We needed to figure out exactly how and where the water was coming in. I stepped outside and looked at the wall. It looked like a normal brick wall, there was no obvious damage. No holes or missing bricks, no large cracks or missing pieces of flashing. I panicked. As the architect, I was expected to explain this problem and offer a solution and I did not know the answer. I stood still as my mind raced; then it occurred to me: look closer, Haley.

Of course. I stepped closer to the wall. I touched the brick as I slowly walked from one side to the other. I looked up and down, up and down. Suddenly, I could see. There were tiny hairline cracks at the top of the wall, weep holes the width of a pencil every 24 inches at the base of the wall, clogged with debris and mortar. Large dark spots mottled the wall, patches of white efflorescence seeped from the brick. I could not see behind the brick or on the roof to know for certain, but reading these clues helped me formulate a solution. The brick would have to be removed, the concrete block re-sealed and waterproofed, and new brick, grouted properly, with proper drainage and cap flashing, would have to be installed.

This was not the first time I have been called to look closer. In fact, those words have called to me many times over the past year. Every time panic sets in, every time I feel overwhelmed, every time I don’t know the answer or feel inadequately prepared to perform the task in front of me, every time I’m overcome with emotions and I feel helpless or furious or sad, I have learned to get very still. I breathe deeply, calm myself, and start studying my surroundings. I start looking for clues and asking questions if possible.

And this doesn’t pertain only to the physical world.

I’ve learned to look closer at every area of my life. My son’s needs; my own moods, emotions and actions; the moods, emotions and actions of others. I’ve come to realize that there is almost always more to see than what appears at first glance.

I would urge you to try it too.

Next time you feel panicked and lost, unsure of what to do, unable to find direction, or you find yourself overcome with rage, sadness, jealousy - stop and take a deep breath, be still, and look closer. Look past the obvious, look past your initial reaction, look beyond the strong emotions you’re experiencing. Try to get still and allow a deeper level of detail and clarity to slowly come into focus. Ask why. Ask what. Ask how. “Why do I feel this way?” “What is so-and-so going through that might make them behave this way?” “How can I look closer at this situation?” Then follow the clues back to the source.

Now that I have recognized the need to look closer, and I’ve learned to see things in greater detail, I cannot un-see them. And everywhere I look, I understand there is more to see - always.

Till next time,


© Haley McManigal 2019

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