Pastor Walter Mitty woke up on Labor Day feeling disgruntled. As he felt the cool air come through the screen window in his bedroom, he wondered why he was feeling grumpy.
There was nothing going on at Poplar Park Community Church. Everyone was either having a barbecue or out shopping for school supplies, so he had the whole day free.
That’s it, he thought. I’m irritated that so many holidays fall on Mondays, and that’s the day I take off anyway. It’s like I’m being cheated out of what amounts to a whole week of vacation. Here I am with a master’s degree, and I’m making less money than Ash is bringing in and he’s retired. And then I get robbed of holidays as well.
Whenever the subject of a pay raise would come up at council meetings, Dominique and Ash would tease me by saying that I was paid pretty well for only working one hour a week. Then they would chuckle and say, “just kidding, Pastor.” But Mitty wasn’t sure they understood how hard he worked, the amount of hours he put in during an average week.
“My job isn’t just sitting with old ladies and drinking coffee,” he grumbled under his breath. “I wonder how they would handle the stress I deal with almost every day.”
Usually a bowl of Natural Ovens granola with blueberries sprinkled on top would be able to lift his spirits, but he remained sullen all through breakfast. Maybe talking to Herman will get me in a better mood, he thought as he swallowed the last of his coffee. He put the cup in the sink and picked up the phone.
“Hi, Herman? This is Walt. Just calling to see how you’re doing,” Mitty said.
“Oh, hi Walt,” replied his brother. “How are things in the big city? From the looks of it, everyone up here in Manitowoc is going to have a cook out in their back yard this afternoon. You’ll able to smell the bratwurst frying all the way to Two Rivers.”
“Poplar Park is pretty quiet today, Herman. I guess they’re doing the same thing you are.”
There was silence on the phone for half a minute.
“I kind of wish I would’ve taken you up on your invitation to come up yesterday and spend the night, but the thought of battling all those people driving back to Chicago on I-94 scared me off.
“By the way, how was your trip to Disney World? You got back when, two weeks ago?”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Walt, Sue and the kids loved it. They really got into that ‘when you wish upon a star’ thing, and the rides were a lot of fun. We stayed at a hotel called the Port Orleans Riverside, and that was real nice.”
Walt let his brother gather his thoughts for what he was going to say next.
“But everything there is artificial, make believe,” Walt said. ” The rocks are made of plastic. The cartoon characters are college girls sweating away in costumes. And that new ride, I think it’s called Soaring. It actually makes you feel like you’re flying, but it’s not real either.”
“Well, Disney always said that it’s a place for fantasies.”
“I know, I know,” Herman replied. “But when I went back to work the day after I got home, the feel of the wood handles on the hand cart and the smell of the soybean meal in the elevator and even the sore muscles at the end of the day-it all felt so good. It was something real. You know what I mean?”
Pastor Walt did know what his brother meant. He had worked on a Soo Line Railroad section crew one summer and knew the feel of a spike maul in his hands and how satisfying it was to drive a spike into a tie. The summer before that his father had gotten him a job at the aluminum goods factory where he was a trucker, pushing huge crates of pots and pans from the clanking machines to the loading docks. He remembered the feeling of knowing what you had accomplished in a day, of being so bone tired that you were asleep five seconds after crawling into bed.
“Sometimes, Herman,” said Poplar Park Community Church’s pastor, “I wish I had a job like yours. Every day you can measure what you’ve accomplished. Me, I have no idea. Besides, you make more money than I do, and you get Mondays off.”
When Herman began to tease him about only working one hour a week, Pastor Walt knew it was time to bring the conversation to a close.
Later in the day, Mitty decided to treat himself to dinner at the Main Street Cafe.
He spotted Fr. Bob Sullivan motioning to him to come to the corner booth. Glad to see a familiar face, Mitty felt himself brighten up for the first time all day.
“The meatloaf special is pretty good,” said the Franciscan priest who had already started eating. “How are things going at the church?”
“OK, I guess,” Mitty answered. “Except that I think I’m having a hard time feeling good about my job. The pay is low and people don’t seem to appreciate what I’m doing for them.”
“I hear you,” said the priest as he swallowed a mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy.
It was after he took his first sip of coffee that Pastor Mitty realized something.
“But you get paid even less than I do, don’t you?”
“Nothing, actually,” replied the Franciscan. “Every once in a while my brother sends me $50 or $100 and says to me, ‘have a good time.’ So I decided to go crazy and have dinner at the Main. But really, in my order, we don’t even own our habits.”
“So what keeps you going?” asked Pastor Walt. “I mean, you always seem to be in a good mood. I don’t understand, because life in the Catholic Church is not easy for a priest these days.”
Fr. Sullivan put his fork down on his plate.
“I’m doing what I was created and called to do. I’ve thought about it a lot and it all boils down to being that simple. My uncle is a farmer. He once told me, ‘Bob, I don’t like shoveling manure, but I do it. And you know why? Number one, it’s got to be done. Number two, it really makes the corn grow tall when you spread it on the fields.
“And number three, I was cut out to be a farmer.”
The priest picked up his knife and fork and started slicing what remained of his meat loaf. Then he stopped cutting, put the knife and fork back down on the plate, looked up and added, “But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, right?”