In my twenties, after college I worked as a substitute teacher. In the summers I worked on projects around Indianapolis for a handyman who ran his own small business doing remodels and repairs. There was one project that I remember well.
We were doing a variety of jobs in and around a large house on a large plot of land, and my task was to tackle the rusty spots on the iron fence that surrounded the property. Outfitted with some sandpaper and an electric gadget that spun a circular wire brush at a rust defying rate, I went to it. Every day. For days on end.
Some days it was purgatory. I buffed with bitterness over the task, finding it impossible to make meaning out of what I was doing with my efforts.
Some days I settled into the simple rhythms of solitude and repetition, turning the task into a sort of hermitic asceticism.
Some days I found small pleasures in removing a layer of rust, uncovering the gloss of unoxidized iron, and then covering it back up with a coat of black paint.
I don’t know what the lesson is from the days I devoted to touching up a purposeless fence. But I find a sort of solidarity with my younger self in this fact: These days, working a job that is heavy with purpose, even still I sometimes wrestle with apathy. And I sometimes settle into the rhythms of formation inherent to the work. And I sometimes bask in the simple, undeniable outcomes.
It’s good to remember that, in a way, each day all that is required of me is to show up to the project at hand. It’s good to remember that my humanity is a result of a long line of days of doing just that with humor and humility.