I felt like Napoleon, who after escaping from his first exile on the tiny island of Elba in the Mediterranean, briefly regained power as Emperor of France for 100 days. The regiment of troops that had been sent to intercept him merely shouted, “Vive L’Empereur!” and marched with him to Paris.
This was my first commute to work by bike in years, and the feeling was just as grand. (This past summer I was laid off from my job, but had been working for the large company from home for some time.) It was fantastic to re-enter the world of commerce in such a manner. While this is a short-term painting gig for a friend, done in a kind of a bartering fashion, it is meaningful work no less. The ride in both directions was brisk and invigorating as I cut through the biting winds. Chugging uphill in the morning was a great way to break a sweat and get limbered up for a big day.
My ancient painter whites, which I have refused to throw away for a full 15 years, are all that remains of my first job after graduation from college: a 3 month summer job as a foreman for a crew of painters. That summer I painted right up to the day before marriage and a new life. These pants have been broken out from time to time, returning my imperial appearance immediately and providing needed coin. This is a picture of part of my commute to work in the gritty neighborhood. Perhaps I cast an appearance somewhat like Napoleon on his white horse!
On the way home I was awash with satisfaction from having participated with humanity in the local economy. Even the people rushing home in their cars felt like brothers and sisters to me, although I felt sorry for what they were missing out in the fresh air. Riding the bike each way provides splendid “bookends” to the hard work of the day, and the perfect cleaving that separates it from home life. Additionally, my muscles all feel fine-tuned and limbered up afterward. Not that old soreness from sitting in the chair all day. Fantastic. Also, I must say that canvas pants make for one half of an unexpectedly splendid riding outfit.
Once again I return to the topic of gratitude. When security and prospects for a ready income are taken away, small things become hugely praiseworthy and can nearly bring you to tears of joy. Oh how healing this is for the broken heart! Also, it causes me to hope that the everyday lessons will permanently penetrate into what is often a stubborn mind. Arriving so unexpectedly at this place, nearly in mid-life, is quite an adventure. Rather than thinking of this period as a “crisis,” I prefer the notion of re-invention. I’m being melted down and cast into something more useful, I hope….. For years I had been languishing away in my basement, having little contact with humanity.
Now, being brought out into the light, I delight in engaging with humankind in practical and meaningful ways. Even the simple act of cleaning a filthy room and transforming it with paint and love communicated through diligent work will bless some future resident. On some evening, after a most difficult day, they may sit down between those walls. Unable to rest due to stress, tears may bubble up from their eyes. Unbeknownst to them, I am praying for them right now. This is my contribution now. It is all I’ve been given to do, so I will do it well. With purpose. With love.
This is why I write this blog. Yes, there’s the need for a platform for the ultimate release of my upcoming book. More important, however, is the need to capture these feelings in words. Otherwise they become fleeting thoughts that the winds of pressure and time will blow away. Boiling them down like this helps me to reflect on them and enables me to live with gratitude and joy as more of a theme in life. It’s important for anyone to do this. I encourage you to journal your own, or communicate them in letters. Rushing through life causes you to fail to cling to important footholds that will allow you to scale the cliff.
Soon I’ll return to my exile, but I’m confident I’ll be changed in some way. Perhaps an image of a hot air balloon being released from its tether is more appropriate.
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”