Community Post: The “Moving On”

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This week at The High Calling, we’re focusing on transitions in the workplace, home, and community. Here on the Community page, several members of our diverse writing network offer their unique insights on the topic.

All that one must know about a man is this: he defines himself by his work. Family may be his heart and his treasure, but seldom is it his worth. That alone rests in the manner by which he provides for those entrusted to his care, and that rests in his toil alone—a man is what he does. Such was how I was raised, and why I unraveled.

I came to factory work in my late twenties. There was little other choice. My wife and I were ready to start a family. The factory promised stability and more pay than I could fathom. That I had always sworn never to spend my life locked away in a windowless hulk of brick and steel did not sway me. Bowing to principle for a family I had not yet received felt noble in a way. I would do it for them, not for me.

The work was monotonous, uninspiring. Over 1800 days of shift work—a week of daylight followed by a week of 4-12 and then seven days of graveyard, one right after the other in an endless wheel that never stopped turning. My daughter was born. Then my son. I was providing. I was a good man. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I cannot imagine aspiring to more.

My daughter spoke her first word on June 24, 2002. My wife relayed the news over the phone. One hand was pressed to my ear and the other was pushing the receiver tight against my head. I couldn’t hear her over the noise of machinery.

My son took his first step as I slept off graveyard shift. My wife showed me the video when I woke. In the excitement of the moment, she had barely managed to capture the end of his last footfall.

I can see my children standing in the soft grass of the front yard as a waning sun turned their faces orange. I can hear them calling out to me as I pull out of the driveway, wanting a few more minutes of my time. I can see their mother reaching for their tiny arms to take them back inside. I can picture her telling my children that I had to go and provide, and I can picture them not understanding because I wasn’t providing at all.

I left my job soon after. Layoffs were looming, and I was first in line. “A moving on,” I called it. It felt more like a death. Strip a man of his worth, and what is left to anchor him to his better self? Let the charity of others fill his belly even as his spirit grows hungry, and what does he become?

I am now six years into my “moving on.” My work now is monotonous, uninspiring. Were it not for my wife’s income, we would be in poverty. And yet I have found a blessing in taking a step down. My family still does not want. We have learned that to do without is to enjoy more. It is a sacrifice. A noble one.

I don’t know if I’m a good man, but I will say that God has made me more by giving me less. He has shown me that much of life is a moving from one place to another. Sometimes that place is more comfortable. Sometimes, it is not. And yet that moving is always better in this one regard—it teaches us not to simply make a living, but to make a life.