Chemical Summer

The din of the pumps and fans is breaking my calm. The acrid smell of solvent burns my nostrils. The numbers on the scale go up and up as a pump flings viscous adhesive into the metal container. When the dial reaches 2200, I turn the levers and the flow stops. I carry off this tote with the fork truck, and set the next one on the scale. The pump goes on the process continues.

This chemical factory is not what a zoologist would put on the plaque outside my cage under “Habitat.”

And yet here I am. As summer jobs go, this one is a little more intense and a lot more lucrative than most. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m staying at my Dad’s condo in a western suburb of the Twin Cities, instead of home in Wisconsin–it cuts my commute and gas money into quarters.

This is a monkish summer; I feel cloistered away from my friends and family, but instead of a humble smock and tonsure, I don the gloves and goggles required to handle things with such reassuring names as benzene or cyclohexane. Instead of meditating on my inadequacy and attending Mass eight times a day, I rise either early or late, as required, make my way to the factory, and drain chemicals all day or all night. But that is not to say that I have put away monkish concerns entirely–I still spend much time thinking of my desperate need for God.

Unlike in past summers, the dearth of theological lectures has not pushed me into spiritual listlessness, for which I can be thankful. Shift work means a longer interval between Church services than I would like, but shift work and its sundry annoyances are just a manifestation of a larger problem.

I’m growing up.

In three months, I’ll be twenty years old. Two decades. It’s a strange thought. My relationship with my family will change. My friends will change. I will change. I don’t know if I’m ready for the circuitous path to adulthood, that I have been following for nigh-on two decades, to straighten and speed up until I can see total independence on the horizon. Moving off on my own, even starting a family, seem eons off, but these things grow closer every day. I already live 1,500 miles away from my family and the town and friends I grew up with for most of the year.

And this summer, when my time with Mom and Abe and Dan is limited to weekends, has done little to fill a school year’s worth of missing them. Yet this is just a picture of the future–sooner, rather than later, I will be independent. I am not ready for that day.

So let me close with a prayer for readiness.

Lord, you created men, like all your creatures, to mature and bear fruit for your kingdom. You are the gardener who has nurtured me from my youth. I pray that you will make me ready to surmount the trials that you have ordained for me, trials that will draw me closer to you. Help me, as I work and study and live, to glorify you in everything I do. Let me like David be comforted by your shepherd’s rod and staff. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of manhood, I will fear no distraction, for You are with me and You will see me through to the end, and make me a light that shines in the darkness, like your Son whom I strive to follow and in whose name I pray.




One thought on “Chemical Summer

  1. I enjoyed your post. I can relate to the feeling of growing up and as a twenty-year-old can say that it is indeed a whole new world. Stay strong.

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