My first parish was in Atlanta. Before that, after finishing Seminary, I worked for about a year and a half at the Akron Foundry. There was a time while working there that I forgot I’d one day be assigned to a parish. I got so immersed in the day-to-day work schedule. I’d get up at five, sometimes stop at the gas station and pick up a paper, I’d start at 5:30, work all day, come home, take a shower, do some reading and usually doze off, go out with friends in the evening, go to sleep and then all over again. Later I got a second job delivering pizzas so I’d have the second job and still find time to go out with friends and wake up early in the morning and start all over again.Granted, I was young and life seemed much simpler. Besides being simple it was also a dead end life. As much as I enjoyed the work-home-friends routine it never ended: week after week, month after month, over and over again. Of course, I didn’t see it like that. In the back of my mind I knew in a few months or a year I’d be living a completely different, and in many ways a much more stressful life. (But that’s for another post.) And so I honestly enjoyed it.
Anyways, a few years after all of that while I was in Atlanta I was reading Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis, a sequel to the more popular Angela’s Ashes. He writes about his coming to New York City, working odd jobs and taking evening classes to eventually become a school teacher. I remember reading the passage below from his book that reminded me so much of those foundry days. He had completed his studies and now is getting ready to start teaching. He describes his last day at the warehouse:
“It’s ham and cheese slathered with mustard and we wash it down with a quart of Rheingold passing the bottle back and forth, and I have a sudden thought and a feeling that I’ll never forget this hour on the pier with Horace with seagulls circling for what might come and ships strung along the Hudson waiting for tugboats to dock them or push them out to the Narrows, traffic rushing behind us and over our heads on the West Side Highway, a radio in a pier office with Vaughn Monroe singing “Buttons and Bows”, Horace offering me another chunk of sandwich telling me I could use a few pounds on my bones and his surprised look when I nearly drop the sandwich, nearly drop it because of the weakness in my heart and the way tears are dropping on the sandwich and I don’t know why, can’t explain it to Horace or myself with the power of this sadness that tells me this won’t come again, this sandwich, this beer on the pier with Horace that makes me feel so happy all I can do is weep with the sadness in it and I feel so foolish I’d like to rest my head on his shoulder and he knows that because he moves closer, puts his arm around me as I were his own son, the two of us black or white or nothing, and it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing to do but put down the sandwich where a seagull swoops it and gobbles it and we laugh, Horace and I, and he puts in my hand the whitest handkerchief I’ve ever seen and when I offer it back he shakes his head, keep it, and I tell myself I’ll keep that handkerchief till my last breath.”