The shower became a holy place after work. It was like a baptismal pool each day I walked in. The days dust, and spray, and caulk collected on me. I let the waters wash and cleans my body as I scrubbed and scrubbed to remove all the deposit. Walking out of the bathroom, I felt like a new man.
In the midst of toil, and sweat, and complaining, emerged this great sense of accomplishment. It was a bit surprising. I am not sure when the turn occurred, only that I started experiencing more from it. Even if I had spent the day working on something material, and minor. I had worked. I was earning a wage, sanding trim. And unlike so much of my previous life, of academics, and privilege, there was a real tangible sense of what I had accomplished in a day. I could see all the trim now sanded. And watch Carlos spray over it with stain and laquer, and then watch the cabinets installed next to us. It felt as if I was part of the world, part of society, and part of creating, and building it. Even if my contribution was the least thing done in the house, I was part of its construction. I was part of life, and creation. Not just consuming it.
I was surprised at how well I was holding up. I was surprised that I was still alive.
There had always this mental barrier in my mind, that I would die, or peel over, or burn out if put in these conditions for more than a day. My upbringing could not go through this type of experience and come out the other side, much less still a man. Looking at men at construction sites came with this phrase, “you couldn’t cut it there. Stay in school. Use your brains.” A man like me just couldn’t do this type of work, all day for 40 or so for hours straight in the sun or around those type of guys? I was beginning to feel my way through the job. And my balls were still intact.
The mourning routines before work, which I thought would be soul killing, had a rhythm them that I was starting to settle into and enjoy. Waking up earlier than usual, eating breakfast, grabbing all my tools, placing them in the car, and driving to the jobsite with Jesse contained an order and grounding not experienced in the rush and sporadic life before. The simple repetitions of being a laborer and caulking lines over and over brought a peace in the midst of the boredom and grunt work. There wasn’t this list of a million choices before me. Not as many worries about if I was on track and moving up. I simply worked.
There was always this reasoning that my education was so I could avoid this type of life. Parents gave their sons these horrible summer jobs to remind them, this is what you could be doing one day, if you don’t study in school. Like the kind of work I was now doing as a college graduate. They seemed to see this work as some type of punishment. All that money was spent on our educations to keep us from having this life. And that was starting to be the irony of it. It was if these were where all the great life lessons and secrets were. The things that my education and the professors could never teach me. Probably cause their parents told them the same thing.
I still wasn’t good for much. Still not called a painter, just a laborer. So I was usually taping off areas. Sanding. Or caulking. If I was lucky, I might paint a little. For awhile, I had fought it. Wanted the more glorious jobs of spraying, and staining doors and lacquer. Thinking I deserved them and was better than this. An educated man for heaven’s sake. I had prior painting experience. And I felt more qualified than my position. But it was starting to make more sense. I wasn’t supposed to try and move up. And claim position. God had me here to feel it, and be content. And deal with it. I was the lowest guy here. Time to stop fighting it, and take my place as that guy.
When you are the low guy, you don’t have choices. I showed up to be told orders. And not even just from the boss. It came at times from the high school dropout, and any other man. I would have fought it years ago. But it was actually nice to be just told what to do, and to do it. SO much of the crap fed to me as a young man was to pursue our dreams, and work for myself. “Be our own boss.” “Reach your potential.” That is the great goal in life. But it seemed all the young christian guys around me, including me, had bought into that. We weren’t happy unless everything was perfect, and we had the greatest job in the world right out of college. Nothing else would do. We were talented, and gifted. Had things to change, and contribute in culture, and in church.
It felt like this was like a recovery program for that. Like it would beat all of that pride and entitlement right out of you. A few days with John riding you for your caulking was enough to make you reconsider a few things. This was turning out not a bad place to be. I was not having to think so much. Not feeling all that pressure to become that. Or be told the world had a thousand possibilities to follow those dreams and what my heart was saying, and be so driven to fulfill all those places. That felt more complicated, and had got me in trouble already. This elevated thinking that I could change the world, and had made me feel more important than I actually was. This job was sobering me up, giving me a taste of real life I had avoided. And in the weirdest, and most unusual way, I felt the relief, and release of all the other. Maybe I could still find all those things, one day.
And maybe, it actually started here.