I’m going to be putting away my work boots. I won’t be needing them again.
It’s been four years since I first put them on. I can’t believe it. Every day was imperfect, but so brilliant all the while. I’ve been tired and filthy, but there was no denying that I was alive. The best me grew and bloomed out of those days. It’s a me that sprints instead of walks, that demands a challenge more than requests one, that is fueled by the kindness and labor of others and seeks to promote them whenever possible. Hard work defines the best in us, and I’m proud to know how true that is.
The end of the day — the moment I got in my car — was the best part of my day. Not because I was going home, but because of the smell. That scent was all mine. It was the smell of grass stains, and dried sweat, and dirt, and sawdust, and paint, and gasoline, and the grimiest oil. That was the smell of accomplishment, of small but necessary struggle and progress, of just wholesome, honest hard work. It was me. I guess it might seem sort of funny, the way that I felt, but it sure doesn’t seem like a joke to me.
For the most part, yes, it was just busy work. It was cutting grass, painting doors, and sweeping dusty floors. But once in a brief while, I had a heaven of a day. Those were the days I repaired a broken swing set or stubborn bike chain—things like that. Those were really something worth remembering. The best part about it wasn’t the work, but the product of it. I’d see the kids, playing with those things I fixed, smiling from earlobe to earlobe and shouting with joy in ways adults simply can’t. That was my real thanks, a true reward paid in full, because I knew that those smiles wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for me. Me, I caused happiness. Please God, let me cause some more. It meant so much to me.
Now I have to leave all that to go back into that silent fog. I feel like I’m setting sail. I guess I’ll finally find out whether or not you can be whomever you want, if dreams can reach beyond surreality. Maybe I’ll catch a strong wind, maybe a storm, maybe nothing at all. Like everybody, I’m scared. I don’t want to stumble, and I’d hate to fall. But what choice do I have? Become another could’ve-been? There’s too many of them as far as I’m concerned. No, I can’t turn tail. Not me, not anymore. It really is time to go. Whatever happens, at least I’ll be out to sea.
Soon, my skin will lose its color, my back won’t hurt as much as it does now, and my muscles will begin to wither as I continue to grow older. But I’m never going to forget those sacred days of mine, when I was barely a man and my name didn’t cost much more than a dollar, but I had a smile on my face because I had a pair of work gloves in my back pocket.