Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saturday, Here in the Park

Saturday, unexpectedly, I found myself resurrected.

My work week had been brutal, and had ended with a dozen unresolved problems. Though pretty desperately in need of a full weekend's rest, I had committed to working at a yearly civic festival up at our Wisconsin book warehouse all day Saturday. It was a duty I was not looking forward to. I would have paid money just to hole up in the dark and nurse the headache that had been with me all week.

It helped not at all that it was a beautiful fall day, and that the hour drive took me up through some tremendous scenery along the St. Croix river valley into a quaint little small town in western Wisconsin. When you seriously don't want to do something, great energy goes into holding onto that unhappiness. The fact was that I was giving up a Saturday to work, and I wasn't resentful of this fact so much as just weary deep down to the soul. I was too tired to be angry, too tired for depression, really

The festival was a full city event, of which our little book selling festival and classic car show was just one part. I was surprised to find that there were literally thousands of people milling about the warehouse and affiliated car show. For the first hour, I worked indoors, trying, and largely failing, to help customers find a book on classic 57 chevies, or 1930s Piper Cub aircraft. I really couldn't have been more useless, since I didn't know the warehouse layout at all, and asking colleagues for instructions only took them away from the real work they were doing.

I've never been very good at being incompetent, and it wasn't good for my spirit to be largely in the way of everybody else. A day that started poorly was taking a turn for the worse.

Then one of the organizers handed me the keys to one of the golf carts--one of our services was offering rides to help book buyers get back to their cars at remote parking lots about 3/4 of a mile from the warehouse.

It took only a few minutes, really, for the world to change entirely. For the next four hours, I ferried pedestrians carrying backs of books back to their car, and I'm not sure I've ever been happier in my life. Older people were gracious and thankful for the rides; kids were delighted to ride in the golf cart, and consistently asked me to go as fast as possible. It was warm in the sun, but high, fast moving clouds blocked the sun every few moments, introducing delightful little shivery moments that tell you it is September rather than August.

A man from Indiana said that he came to the town every year at this time to vacation, so much did he like the annual festival. One small group of motorcylists picnicking alongside the road stopped me at one point after seeing me pass a dozen, two dozen times, and offered me a beer. I declined, with professionalism.

One of the traffic directors called on the walkie-talkie and asked for somebody to bring cold water; I delivered.

I always do better outdoors than in, but as they day wrapped up, I realized that my rebirth was the result of something even simpler than that. For the entire afternoon, my only responsibility had been to serve others in the most simple way imaginable. There was nothing at all complicated about the solutions I was being asked to deliver. There wasn't any kind of production workflow to troubleshoot and improve; I had no personality clashes to reconcile, no emotional upheavals to tend, no deadlines to meet.

For four hours, my entire being was simply focused on giving rides to people who were invariably happy to receive them.

These small acts of service were events of utter freedom for me, for there was nothing that needed planning, nothing else to think or worry about, other than simply delivering people to a place they wanted to go.

"What do you do, when you're not driving ladies around in a golf cart?" one woman asked me as I dropped her off at her station wagon. "Are you one of the big shots?"

I grinned to myself. "Today, this is as important as it gets," I said to her.

Perhaps in the end, genuine freedom is mostly a matter of freedom from self.


Jerri said...

Genuine freedom may be freedom from self, but there are few better ways to loosen the knots than to have people appreciate your efforts.

Day to day, you have lots of responsibility, but I wonder how much appreciation you receive.

I, for one, appreciate your presence in the world. Every day.

Every. Day.

the chaplain said...

Nice story. It's amazing how "work" of an entirely different sort from your usual routine can be refreshing. I think you're right that the reason you were so satisfied was because you were providing a service to others.

M@ said...

You're like Van Wilder.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Gorgeous post. Just beautiful.