In the summer of 1986, I worked my first job. I worked for the Borough of Emmaus. Specifically, I worked for the Borough in the sign department. I have racked my brain trying to remember the name of the old Dutchie that served as my supervisor and partner. Together we made street signs, replaced all traffic signage in the borough.
Famously, my ‘supervisor’ put my on the top of a dump truck, tipped the lid so that I could drive the post of an oft-waffled sign at the junction of Rts. 29 and 100. With a police squad car blocking the lane, I stood tall with a sledgehammer and drove and mounted the sign. Apparently, OSHA did not exist in 1986, Dutchies don’t care about sixteen-year-olds, and the town did not own a ladder.
I have two other highlights of that summer. On Fridays, the town department washed and cleaned the police squad cars inside and out. As a sixteen-year-old, that massive responsibility fell on me. As the summer progressed, either out of trust or laziness, the police had me rotate the cruisers through Town Hall. Meaning, I drove the police cars back and forth from the garage to the police station. Having already sat in the BACK of a police car by the time I was sixteen (that’s a story for another day), sitting in the front was WAY more fun. Especially, if you turned the lights on speeding up Minor St. like it was important.
The other highlight. During my last week at work my partner stopped at Gabby’s Market and bought me an ice cream sandwich. As rather non-emotive types, getting ice cream from an old Dutchie was high praise. I remember that touching, sentimental ice cream sandwich fondly. It said what words could not.
By the end of that summer, I noticed that my hands had grown the callouses of a laborer. They were much like my father’s leathered and weathered hands. I embraced the hard hands of hard work. They were a badge, an honor, an emblem.
The Bible frowns upon calloused and hardened hearts. They are often associated with Pharaoh and a disobedient Israel. If you permit me, I would like to flip the metaphor of a calloused heart.
A calloused heart is a heart hardened by hard work. Like hands and feet, our hearts grow hardened and thickened when we use them. They remain soft and tender when we don’t.
Love is hard work. Caring is harder work. Tolerance and forgiveness are the hardest work. We cannot love with soft, tender hearts. We cannot care, demonstrate tolerance, or offer forgiveness with weak, fragile hearts.
Back to my friend on the sign department. Somewhere during the summer, we drove up Macungie Ave. toward the high school. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a dog that had been tangled up in a garden hose. He whipped the pickup truck we used when he wasn’t trying to kill me around the corner. He approached the dog and ‘rescued’ it. He then took the dog to the front door and talked to the owner. The dogs name was Peanut Butter. He wanted the owner to know what had happened.
We cruised Macungie Ave. many more times that summer. Every time, every time we passed that house, he would say with the singsong voice of a good Dutchman, “Peanut Butter”. I believe he deliberately drove out of his way to make sure that dog was not re-entangled in the garden hose.
We need hearts calloused by years of labor to do the hard heart work to which we are called currently. I wish these days were easier. I wish these days required less love, less care, less effort, less work. But, for those who have loved and cared, tolerated and forgiven, we know how to do this work.
So, let’s get to work.
I love you.
I need you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.