An on-the-job education

By David WilliamsBy David Williams

  My son recently sent me a text message while he was working. Apparently he was having a rough night because he wrote that he needed an education.

As I looked at the phone, a smile crossed my face. He was growing up and coming to some conclusions regarding his future without any preaching from me. In that regard, the job was paying dividends that exceeded his hourly wage. He was gaining wisdom and his text message caused me to reflect back on my own wisdom growth spurt.

It was the summer of 1983, and I was home on break from college. The road of a student athlete can be a long one. I must admit, there were times while on that road I thought about getting off of it. The summer of ‘83 was one of those times.

A friend of the family worked at the employment office. I thought he was an excellent contact to get a really good summer job. I made an appointment to see him. He promptly sent me to the bakery’s personnel department. 

The very first thing the personnel manage asked was if I could endure heat. Actually he told me I should be able to endure the heat because I was a football player.

Even though I thought it was an odd thing to say, since he wrapped what he said within a compliment, I agreed with him.  He asked if I minded working long hours, and I told him that I didn’t. He told me that was good, because the worst thing about the job was the odd hours and the heat.

He then proceeded to discuss hourly wages and how uniforms were purchased. Finally, he told me that job was mine if I wanted it. He told me to be there the next day at 3 p.m. I left the office feeling pretty excited about starting my new job.  The hourly wage was nice, and I guess thoughts of making that money caused me to block out the manager’s warning signs.

The next day I reported for work. I was taken to my job location and given a brief summary of what I was to do. I stood in front of what could best be described as an open multi-layered grill. It was literally a series of grill racks rotating on an axle.

The open face allowed easy access for a two-man team. One guy would place unbaked dough into the oven and the other man would remove it. The oven pit was about thigh high. This meant that I had to stoop constantly in order to remove the bread during my long, hot and odd hour shifts. There was a vent high above us that was rumored to blow out cool, refreshing air. I say rumored because during my tenure there I never felt it.

Night after night, shift after shift I passed the time away bent over grabbing hot pans loaded with hot bread. At times it was so hot salt lines would form on my clothes. The oven had two speeds, fast and faster. This is what it must have been like for John Henry (the steel driving man) or my slave ancestors. My shortest shift was nine and half hours and my longest was twelve. Hands that once held a football were now scarred and marked. I started out a robust, energetic running back, but was quickly becoming a small place kicker.

We all know stories of athletes who come home, find a good job and get used to the money. Well, this isn’t one of those stories. So deep was my despair that I longed for an education. I found myself wishing I could go to the library and study. A research paper was nothing compared to that living nightmare. One night I ran into another college athlete. The same so-called friend from the employment office had sent him to the rock. As our eyes met and we shared the silent bond of concentration camp prisoners. I thought I’ve got to get an education.

     I smiled as I reread my son’s text and thought, after all these years, that it was the same script with a different cast. But as long as his experience moves him forward he’ll be okay.  The key to it all, I believe, is understanding that life is a journey and that God is in control. He used the palace to prepare Moses for the desert, and He used the desert to prepare Joseph for the palace. And if we allow, God will use those foundation experiences in our life to make us both better and wiser.

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