Tag Archives: Work

Courage at Twilight: Getting It Right

Yesterday: I was not angling for a pat on the head, but neither did I expect a rap on the knuckles.  I had listened to everything Dad said he would do to get ready for the wedding: string trim the grass along the sidewalks and the rock wall and around the landscape beds; hoe and pull all the weeds and tall grass and wild morning glory vines from the shrubs and beds.  He could do none of it, and I suspected the man he had hired would not show up (he didn’t), so I set to work hoeing, snipping, trimming, raking, bagging, sweating, near collapse from illness and fatigue.  Six neighborhood men converged for a successful second attempt to winch the impossibly heavy brick mailbox pedestal into its hole.  They repaired the broken sprinkler pipe, stacked the sod, and will come back in a couple of days to see how the pedestal has settled, pour fresh cement, and restore the soil and grass.  Dad sat and watched and worried and advised, straight from his bed, without taking his medicine, without drinking, without eating—straight to the job for the long-haul, sitting in the driveway in the hot sun, sweating out his strength, begging on the misery of seizures and exhaustion.  Four friendly Columbians assembled the wedding tent and I stumbled to be friendly in Spanish, treating them to cold Brazilian Guaraná soda (“No es cerveza?”  “No, no tiene alcohol.”)  I finished my work after six hours, and putting the tools away, Dad told me I had done the string trimming wrong.  No “thank you.”  No “looks great.”  No “you did a lot today.”  Like I said, I did the work because it needed doing, and I was proud of the beautiful manicured result—I was not pandering for praise.  But if you expect a job done a certain way, tell me at the beginning of the job; do not wait until the job is done and then criticize the result.  I felt suddenly furious, and announced I was done because I had worked beyond my limits, which I had, and my arms and hands were shaking and my breathing tight and short and all I wanted was to lie down in a cool dark room.  But I found little Gabe (almost four already!) and asked him the question he always hopes to hear: Do you want to bake some cupcakes, little friend?  He measured and poured and stirred and tasted at every step, from bitter cocoa-powder paste to rich batter to sweet butter-cream icing to small spoonsful of sprinkles, the various chocolaty substances fingerpainted on his face.  But Gabe’s all-time favorite game is Hide-and-Seek.  “Nobody wants to play Hide-and-Seek with me,” he bemoaned as everyone worked, and I thought maybe I could find a little hiding and seeking energy for my little friend.  When he counts, he counts fast, and ten “seconds” was barely enough time to bound off and stumble behind a bush, where he found me when I poked up for a peak and he squealed and I laughed and his mama watched us from the kitchen window, giggling.  Gabe took most of the cupcakes home, thankfully.  Later I laid in bed wondering at my still-smoldering anger and how outsized it was to the offense and wondering where it came from and pondering my six-decade relationship with the great man I call “Dad” and learning long ago not to expect praise but to get the job done right and wondering what my three daughters and my four sons think of their “Papa” and whether my expectations were reasonable, and reasonably expressed.

Last Night: And at 1:00 a.m. my sleeping ears began to hear Dad’s far-off call “Rog!” and at the second “Rog!” I jumped from my bed, threw off the loathed CPAP cup, grabbed my 45-year-old homemade brown terrycloth bathrobe and ran to the stairs to confront the whole spectrum of trouble.  But there sat Dad in his recliner, reading, munching, happy, perfectly fine and safe, waving, smiling curiously at me looking distressed in my underwear at the top of the stairs.  I hung my bathrobe on its hook and resumed staring at the dark ceiling, ready to let go of unintended offense, ready for sleep, ready for the last Mary Berry cupcake the next day, a Sunday, a day of rest.

Today: Dad, sitting with me at a round table under the wedding tent: “Rogie, did you do all this work in the yard?  There’s not a single weed in the shrub beds, and they are all raked out so nice and neat.  And the string-trimmed edges of the lawn are perfect.  It’s all perfect.  You have made the hard look so nice for the wedding.  Thank you.”

Chapter 35: Canoe Trip

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–Being accomplishes more than doing.–

Our fast-paced society places so much emphasis on getting things done.  We often base our self-esteem on the completion of routine tasks.  I say to myself, “I had a good day: I got so much done.”  But what did I really accomplish?  Did I make a meaningful contribution to the world? Continue reading