As well as I can remember, I’ve never told anyone this story before. Now I’m telling the world. I was spending 4 weeks working at a Boy Scout camp on Maui. I was 21 and it seemed a little obvious to the camp director that I was bumming it getting room and board and payment in the summer between college semesters. I was still working hard and he saw to it that I had little down time working the kitchen, teaching for merit badges and coaching archery. I even led the protestant vesper service Wednesday nights.
One lazy Sunday afternoon I was sitting in the office doing nothing and I watched the camp director get out the lawn mower. He may or may not have started mowing, but it wasn’t just a few minutes before he got in his vehicle and left. Mowing the grass in the assembly area was barely started. I saw my chance to be a good boy scout. I would finish the job anonymously. The camp director would come back and see the job done and think highly of all the workers there that day, not knowing who had finished the job. It wasn’t just altruistic. I would feel less like a bum too.
I started mowing. It was pleasant. I was used to operating a push mower. I mowed for a little while when the mower sputtered to a stop. It was out of gas. I had no idea where any was stored. The job wasn’t even half done. I was so disappointed I considered siphoning gasoline from my Mustang. I didn’t have the tools and someone would have spotted me. I went back to the staff cabin and didn’t watch for the camp director to come back. No one knew that I had tried to do that. As I’ve thought about it years later I think maybe he left for town to get some gasoline.
I usually get anxious and irascible around my birthday. I have tried to explain it that I begin to regret bad decisions, and wish I had done things different. I wish that I had not been coasting through college. That summer was right in the middle of four years of not studying much and never being mindful of a future. There are a lot of regrets and I listed several last year on my blog. Sometimes I just wish I could make more of a difference. I wish I could have completed mowing the lawn and made the camp director pleased. Maybe I really wanted him to suspect that it was me who did it.
But the grass would have grown back in just a few days. The work I do now never lasts either. As usual, one of the last things I did at work on Saturday was vacuum the room where the kids assemble. The next morning there is my youngest son eating a half a donut spilling sprinkles all over my nice clean floor. Church hadn’t even started yet and there was my work, tainted. And that is the way it goes and if I cannot accept that then I have some serious issues and don’t belong practicing the custodial arts.
So I’ve tried to work through the disappointment in myself this February. It’s easy to see all the blessings I have and know that God took care of me despite my carelessness. And the impermanence of what I do each day reflects on the big picture, something that I’ve had trouble seeing all my life. I am seeing that the best of intentions can be thwarted. The cleanest of floors will be dirtied. Life cannot go the way I want it to a lot of the time. But like an unstoppable force it will move on and I can sit and sputter like an empty lawn mower or I can smile at the joy my 8 year-old shows at eating a donut with sprinkles.
One last thing that is somewhat related to all of this: I have thought about what to write on the day before my 45th birthday. I can do a lot of thinking while I vacuum. I wanted to write something exceptionally significant. I thought about listing off all the people who have helped me out all my life with support of all kinds, encouragement and so many other things. I thought about teachers and friends who spent time listening to me when I needed to talk. I thought about people who gave me a chance or a second or third chance when it didn’t look like I should be allowed another. I had friends come and celebrate my birthday with me yesterday. That meant more to me that I could ever express in words.
But among all the people who I can try to remember making a difference in my life I don’t know how many there were that I will never know about. Like me when I tried to mow the grass in secret, how many others have taken care of me without me ever knowing? How many people have lifted me up in prayer? I will never know how many people have actually made a difference in my life. I’m sure the number is considerably more than my weekly readers here.
So I’ll turn 45 tomorrow. And as much as I like to crow about how much of a loner I am, I would never have made it this far and in this good of a mental and spiritual state were it not for more people than I will ever know. Thank you.