My next-door neighbor offered me fifty cents an hour. I suggested he ought to pay sixty cents so it would be easy for me to figure out how much he owed me at the end of the day — a penny a minute. He smiled at the suggestion and agreed; and my first earnings came at a place where journeys end. He owned the newest Haywood County, Tennessee cemetery, Memorial Gardens. My first endeavors did not go down in the history books. I remember filling a small lake at the gardens with a long four-inch black pipe. It took days. I was amazed at how long it took. We watched and I earned a penny a minute.
My neighbor also owned a share in a camp house on the end of a lingering and winding rutted road. Driving for the first time ever, and pulling his trailer which was perched on top of a single wheel, I learned that it is more comfortable to steer in the ruts rather than in and out and bouncing up and down and all around. The tract was on a remote neck of woods that reached deep into a low forest spotted with dirty sloughs chock full of trapped catfish. When the flood waters receded in the spring, those bottom feeders ended out hunting in the shallows of their new summer homes, now still-water prisons shared with venomous Water Moccasins. They were separated from the large lakes where duck congregated unaware of spying hunter’s keeping vigil in tree-blinds camouflaged by bamboo harvested from the dense watershed. My duties included gathering this foliage from the thicket to cloak the sportsman’s perch we placed in a tree overlooking the shimmering lake. We carried the boards on our backs over leaf covered trails and loaded the bamboo on our shoulders as we hoisted them into the high limbs.
On each trip to the bottoms we set up our homestead by sweeping the hard and bare ground which remained sheltered from the sun as if it were the open floor of a town hall. Then the space became our kitchen for cooking Brunswick stew. We managed its thickness with slices of light-bread poured from their packages into a huge cooker perched over an open propane flame. The bread’s purpose was to soak up the excess juices so the consistency would not be just that of a soup. The bread was later discarded.
Once our pilgrimage was too close to winter and we spent the entire day jacking up the car and building a portable road of plank underneath the tires only to immediately abandon it like a bridge to nowhere except into the next stretch of mud. Then we did it all over again until we could escape the hundred-foot trench. All this work was history by the following June.
In the moment, it would seem that such adventures were diversions from the more meaningful endeavors that define who we are and become the structure that memorializes our name in the memories our families carry forward. But this is basically all I remember of my first employer – these small adventures in meaningless work. Think again! In reality, these vignettes are the images that turn out to be captured by the mind when we think of people we have known. We list these mediocre but memorable days as if they were monuments when the lives of our friends are over. Could it be that we exist for such interaction and that these snapshots are fundamentally why we reside on God’s green earth?
We set out to change the whole world, but God intends for us to abide with those who live in our little corner of it. God wants us to pour out our lives a drop at the time as patrons of those we are blessed to live among. How can we approach living out love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13 without terabits of time well spent in the company of the souls for whom we are granted an audience on our watch? While we forge our temporary paths – day in and day out – we spend the currency of life in measurements of minutes with others. We either build structures alone that disappear into the mud or we build them with those with whom we show our love. The currency is the treasure of minutes accumulated into the span of our life. We cannot love well unless we are together and the loving of others with the time we have is more important than preaching, doing something supernatural, or dying the death of a martyr. The value of a minute is more than a mint full of little copper coins.
(1 Corinthians 13:2-3 CSB) If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.