Working harder and faster comes easy to me. Growing up in a house where there was a lot of love but very little money, I didn’t know there was another way.
Work smells like diesel fuel and Marlboros and truck stops just off the interstate. Work was exhausting and physically demanding, and I saw the toll it took on my dad. He was a long-distance truck driver and would be gone for days or weeks at a time. This was long before cell phones. On the evenings when he was scheduled to call from a payphone, my siblings and I would race to the phone on the kitchen wall to see who could get to the ringing phone first to hear his voice.
I cherished the times I got to go in the truck with him. As I sat on the doghouse and watched one state roll into the next, I remember feeling happy and safe. I also remember feeling sad and afraid. It broke my heart to see my dad work so hard – he barely slept and had huge dark circles under his eyes. When he got asked to add another run to his already full load he always said yes. Another run meant more work and less sleep but it also meant more money.
It was confusing to feel happy and sad at the same time. It was even more confusing to feel safe and afraid at the same time.
One night the sadness overtook me and I went back into the bunkhouse and sobbed. I tried to muffle the sound by crying into my pillow but my dad still heard. When he asked what was wrong, I told him I was homesick. And I was. But that isn’t why I was crying. I was crying because on that trip for the first time I really saw what this job was doing to him. My dad never complained (he still doesn’t!) so it wasn’t until that specific trip when I saw it with my own eyes. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. I still can’t.
He was exhausted and his body hurt.
He was homesick and his heart hurt.
When we got back from the trip, I told my brother and sister that I was afraid our dad was going to die. I was convinced he was going to work so hard that it would kill him. My brother and sister, both of whom were in middle school at the time, quickly knew what to do. My brother said he would call Tom Slarman (a farmer who lived about a mile away) and ask about a job bailing hay. My sister said she would call our Aunt Nancy and ask about babysitting more (my aunt played in a band and my sister babysat on those nights).
But me? What could I do? I was in the third grade. I wasn’t old enough to bail hay or to babysit. My siblings were going to work more so my dad could work less. It haunted me. I laid awake that night staring up at the ceiling thinking and praying and trying to figure out how to work.
Fast forward four decades. Just last night I laid awake staring up at the ceiling thinking and praying and trying to figure out how to work.
And then it happened. The answer came to me. It came to me as a gentle whisper just as the sun was about to rise. I felt the answer move through my body and through my heart and all the way back to the third grader I used to be.
Working harder and faster isn’t the way. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. Working smarter and differently is the way. Loving harder, playing harder, resting harder is the way. It is the road that will lead me all the way home.