When I tell stories about the experiences I’ve had in my work life over the years, I’m likely to bring up such adventures as floating above Winston-Salem in the Burger King Whopper hot air balloon or bungee jumping out of a different hot-air balloon.
The quieter joy that my work has brought me has been spending time with people who find satisfaction in what they’re doing and then writing stories based on those conversations and experiences. Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about what a gift that life has been.
When I was a kid, I imagined growing up to become a writer. In those days, though, I was quite shy until I got comfortable with someone. So, talking to people I didn’t know wasn’t part of my vision of becoming a writer. I simply imagined pulling stories out of my imagination.
In my 20s, I ended up working as a waiter for a number of years. At the time, I thought of it as a dead-end job. It was only in retrospect that I saw that the experience was an important step along the way, because it enabled me to become comfortable talking with people I didn’t know. It made it possible for me to be a writer whose stories grew out of talking with people I had just met.
Sometimes, it’s easy to see why people like doing what they do. Teachers are in that category. If you’re cut out for it, focusing on helping young people grow and learn and find themselves is clearly doing God’s work and comes with rich rewards.
Other times, I couldn’t imagine why in the world someone would want to do something before talking to the person. Building a ship in a bottle fell into that category. In telling that story, I like to say that, if I stood before St. Peter and he told me that I would be building ships in a bottle for eternity, I would say, “Surely, I haven’t been that bad.”
But, when I visited with the man, I learned that he liked it so much, in part, because doing it well was possible only if he gave the process 100 percent of his attention, and the time not thinking about anything else in his life made it quite restful. Although nothing the ship-in-a-bottle builder said prompted me to consider taking up the hobby, I could now understand the attraction.
My work has also given me a much better sense of how deep and rich the goodness in the world is. It’s not just one or two teachers serving students. It’s teacher after teacher. And it’s not just teachers. Our community is filled with people in other roles who have found it rewarding to serve in a particular way.
Sometimes I think about how, if I didn’t have the work I have, I wouldn’t have met the person I am talking with.
And sometimes I think about how many people are doing good work here in Forsyth County and how vast the world beyond our community is and how that world is filled with people helping others in the way that suits them best.
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