You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
40 years in the sausage factory.
I was talking to a co-worker the other day. He’s been here almost 40 years.
40 years is an eternity at one job. It’s a gold watch plus 15. It’s a marathon of over-time, missed holidays and late dinners.
“When I walked in the doors forty years ago,” He says driving the car down a street he’s navigated a thousand times before. “I never thought I’d be here 40 years!”
His voice is matter of fact, his tone melancholy.
The man stares out the windshield. There’s a bus blowing exhaust. There’s a billboard for erectile dysfunction written in Spanish. There’s a man selling homeless newspapers. We slow behind a dented car with a temporary tag. The driver ahead of us is in no rush as he checks his iphone, periodically scanning the road through a cracked windshield.
The man stares at the navigational obstacles before him on this claustrophobic thoroughfare, but what he really sees is the long meandering road of his life.
The man drives forward knowing that his life road is obfuscated, his future vision obscured by grimy glass, his path now affected by his own indecisiveness over the years.
After 40 years of doing the same thing over and over, the man is tired. He tells me he wants to get out.
“I want to do something else. I just don’t know what else I might be good at.”
The man is 60.
“Can you believe that you are 60?” I ask.
He shakes his head slowing at the cross walk.
“When you’re young, you think you have all the time in the world. But you don’t. Time is short.”
I think about his words.
He’s right. I think about my own kids on the treadmill of life. They are starting out, getting their lives and careers going. One is in college, one is training to fly jets. One is still figuring out how to begin a family.
When you are young, life’s road is paved, full of opportunity. But when you have been driving through the same work gate for 40 years, you stare at the dark asphalt and you see cracks, and pot holes and time fading.
“So do something about it,” I interject.
He sighs. His face is long and his laconic exasperation speaks volumes.
When you are 60 and you only know one thing, finding the courage to walk the plank of life, sometimes is courage that you no longer have.
Having the fortitude, the desire, the inspiration to step off into the unknown, is harder when you’ve spun around the sun 60 times.
“I don’t know,” he says, his words fading over the rumble of the old engine.
Free falling through space, tumbling toward an ocean full of unknown is easier when you are young, I decide.
The 60 year old pulls up to the gate and pauses.
There is a light rain on the windshield. He fumbles to find his gate card.
He pushes the window control and lets the misty afternoon spit upon his worn face.
He touches his card to the metallic post and the gate shakes to life.
He quickly puts up his window, to avoid the spitting rain and waits.
We both watch quietly as the gate slowly opens before us.
The gate is slow and steady and takes a few seconds to fully part.
The man watches, his foot pressed firmly on the brake.
This moment is symbolic. Like the man’s life, he is waiting for something to happen, for someplace to go. But the car remains motionless, his foot mashed on the brake.
Like his life, this car is going zero miles an hour.
I can hear the wheels squeaking and the metal rattle as the gate locks into place.
Finally, the man turns the wheel slightly to the right, maneuvering the front of the car past the sharp metal post of the gate.
We pull into a stall, parking next to another company vehicle. We are one of ten, identical cars.
I look at the row of white cars all parked at an angle, all exactly the same, like a loaf of who cares white bread.
I feel the urge to be a rainbow, to jump out of a plane, to scream at the moon.
The tired man turns off the motor and we sit in silence for a moment.
60 years old. 40 years at the same job. His desire to leave burns so strong, it is like incense filling the cockpit of the car. He stares out the windshield into the fence bordering the parking place. He realizes that he must do something else before the sands in his hour glass finally run out.
Change takes courage.
Sometimes you have to walk off the plank and fall into a sea of sharks and take your chances.
When the thought of going into the sausage factory makes you physically ill, it’s time to hand your tattered door key to the boss. When every second of the time clock blares in your head for 10 hours a day, it’s time to dramatically alter your life course.
“You ready to go in,” the man says with all the passion of a wet potato chip.
I don’t answer. I open the door and let the mist hit me in the face.
It’s cold and sends me a life message. Inside my head I scream I am the rainbow.
I have been coming to this sausage factor for half the time of the man in the driver’s seat.
I don’t yet feel the drowning feeling that he feels. But his suffocating life force is a wake up call.
Life is finite and at some point you park a car next to another car parked next to another car that is all indistinguishable from 10 other cars. At some point, if you let it, life will make you nervously exhale and question what happened to all the time you thought you had to do everything you thought you would do.
Be the rainbow.