Taking me back…

Suddenly, I was crying. The tears filled my eyes, making driving difficult. And the more I listened, the harder I cried.

I was on my way to a Worship Design Team Meeting at my church. The team meets weekly, a gathering of artistic, musical, creative people. We meet to plan worship services, write dramas, design artistic comminication for the worship serrvices.

Then the familiar music started to play. Without warning, I was back in the warehouse eight years earlier. I was pushing a heavy metal cart up and down the long isles. I was pulling medical supplies off the shelf, placing them in large plastic tubs, and moving on to the next item on my list. I could smell the cardboard, the dust on the cement, the exhaust from the box truck parked at the bay door. I could feel the cold metal shelving as I reached for another box of syringes to be shipped to the hospital later that night. I could hear the echo of Nick shouting at Danny. I could hear Curtis yelling over the shelves at them both and Darryl cursing above it all just to hear himself curse. But over all this chaos, muffled by the headphones on my ears, I heard the music gently playing.

Like an island of sanity in a sea of madness, that music gave me peace. And then the voice spoke. The voice so smooth and peaceful. I would stop my cart, no matter where I might be, and listen to his words speaking to me, reminding me that there was still culture. There was still civility. There was still hope.

Every night at 7:00 p.m., The Writer’s Almanac would play. Garrison Keillor would come to me in the echoing warehouse. He would whisper in my ears about poets, long dead. He would tell interesting stories about the suffering artists, love-lost writers, and laureates who languished alone for years before their one famous prose would set them free. And then he would read a verse in his breathy baritone. His words would enter my brain and somehow reach down and touch my heart and I was no longer in the warehouse. His words moved me. His words transported me. They still do.

The “Warehouse Days”, as I like to call them, were a difficult time in my life. I had stepped out of the pulpit after 10 years of successful ministry. I had a Bachelors Degree and a Master’s Degree and was considered a rising star in the church. But I left it all, for the sake of my marriage, my kids, and my own sanity. I never questioned the decision. It was the right thing to do and I would do it again. But my sudden change in course, without any real direction, had caused my self-confidence to drop to an all-time low.

And so, in the summer of 2000, I found myself working in a supply warehouse from 4:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., five days a week and every other weekend. I was the primary care provider for our kids during the day but I rarely saw my wife. She worked days and would be returning home from her job just as I was driving in to mine. We met half way in a parking lot, transferred the kids from my van to her’s, talk for 5-10 minutes and then say goodnight.

The warehouse was unlike any other place I’d worked before. Please understand, I’ve worked in a lot of different places doing a lot of different things. I’ve castrated pigs and scraped taco grease from catch basins. I’ve hauled manure and slaughtered chickens. I’ve ordered cheeses from around the world and helped large women buy nightgowns and crotchless panties. I’m not intimidated by jobs. I’ll pull up my sleeves and work with the best of them. In fact, in a matter of months, I was the best worker in the place. For two and a half years, I worked as if my entire career was based on the next order I pulled. It wasn’t the work that made it difficult. It was loneliness.

As much as I tried, I just didn’t fit in with these men. We lived in different worlds. My world was Bible studies, my kids, and NPR. Their world was bar fights, CPS, and Nascar.

It wasn’t that we didn’t get along. We were friendly and spent many hours laughing together. Many summer nights, after the work was done and we were ready to go home, we would share a six pack while we leaned on our cars and talked about life. But in the end, they went home to fight with their wives and face collection agencies. And I went to my sleeping family and waited for the next day.

And so, as I drove to my meeting with like-minded creative brothers and sisters, on this night so many years removed from the “Warehouse Days”, the music made me cry.

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