It’s been a long, hot summer in West Texas. Even now, in September, the daily highs continue to register 100 degrees or more.
I have done my share of complaining. But my whining was tempered after conversing with a friend from a former parish.
Raymond works as a welder at an oil refinery. When I asked if his shop was air-conditioned, he laughed and said that the temperature inside the building hovered around 120 degrees.
My mouth dropped. “You get many breaks?” I asked.
“A few.” He shrugged. “But it’s twelve hours a day, six days a week.” His eyes looked tired. “We start turn-arounds next month. That means a stretch of thirteen days on with just one day off in between.”
“In 120 degrees?”
He gave a nod
“I hope they pay you well.”
What I wanted to say was, “You got my respect, pal!”
Last weekend was Labor Day and I prayed for Raymond. The gospel passage focused on carrying the Cross. This led me to pray for other welders who work inside the refineries. They don’t cart crosses on their backs, rather, they tote safety harnesses strapped to their chests.
Each harness weighs fifteen pounds and includes two hooks that workers attach to metal brackets. At the base of each hook is a cable designed to stop a fall should a worker make a misstep on some ladder or platform high above the refinery floor.
Like carrying the Cross, lugging a harness is a burden, but also like the Cross, its rescue capacity far outweighs the inconvenience.
In his journal, St. Pope John XXIII comments on a spiritual lesson taught to him, not by refinery workers, but by fishermen pulling night shift on a river near Istanbul:
Every evening from the window of my room, I see an assemblage of boats. They come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds. The lights on these boats glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen. I find the sight very moving.
The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.
There is not much of the Kingdom of God left in this world; a few seeds amid much debris. We must do as the fishermen of the Bosporus do, work night and day with our torches lit!