Dump truck affirmation

In the Image

February 22, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 4
Ed Olfert | Columnist
(Photo by Alden Jewell, Flickr)

In this new-ish year, I find myself searching out new-ish challenges.

My youngest brother and I have been trading off shifts driving a dump truck in Saskatoon, which is still cleaning up after the great Christmas Day 2022 snowfall. It has been a delight to re-insert myself into the truck-driving culture, a culture that communicates with a language where only one sharp adjective can describe a shocking variety of nouns.

I have moved in and out of trucking culture most of my adult life, and am at peace there. I have relearned that, where heavy equipment is involved, walking within a stone’s throw of said equipment results in your work gloves smelling of diesel for the rest of their natural lives. If you are as charmed by that as I am, perhaps there’s a career shift ahead for you.

Besides income, another thing that draws me to this unique community is simply the way men relate in the workplace (there are no women in our workplace to this point). Out of a perhaps peculiar sense of spirituality, I occasionally insert a twist into the conversation around the time-clock in the shop as the crew gathers before our shift.

A young man stands beside me, smoking and drinking coffee as we wait for the rest of the gang to arrive. He is the skid-loader operator on my crew, who is responsible for chasing after the heavy loader and trucks, scraping up any snow that has escaped us. I point out to him that I’m envious of his skill maneuvering his machine in tight quarters around heavy trucks. He is a very good operator.

My family culture has taught me that skilled operating of machinery is a highly valued quality, and is a reflection on the integrity of the operator. I see by his reaction that this is a highly unusual thing to say in this context. While the men are warm and supportive, offering direct affirmation calls forth a response perhaps not dissimilar to striking someone with that diesel-infused work glove. There is a look of shock, a slight bit of recoil.

Then my young man reacts warmly. After we exchange names, and I tell him I have a nephew with a similar and somewhat unusual name, he launches into a history of that name: what it means, how it describes him, what the Greek roots suggest.

I know that he is my new best friend when he later asks if my brother and I are twins. It’s the highlight of my day. My brother is 10 years my junior.

Offering affirmation changes relationships. This is a lesson that was driven home to me in decades of church ministry, decades of prison ministry, decades of relating to marginalized folks everywhere. Offering affirmation lightens conversations, lightens them to provide room for humour, which is always a fine addition to any communication.

In the Gospels, as the story is told of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the voice of God comes into the scene, offering affirmation: “This is my child whom I love.” Although we are well versed in that event, the activity of offering affirmation to another has somehow been largely lost.

Certainly, in my growing years, I cannot recall hearing affirmation from my father, probably a reason why that relationship always felt complicated. Occasionally, we may step outside that unwritten rule, perhaps in a church context, but to offer affirmation as one person to another in the context of real life, is, in my experience, rare.

We are created holy. We are gifted beings. We bring unique gifts to every community, every relationship we are a part of. As my partner Holly often reminds me, “Say good things to each other before a funeral!”

We are children of God, beloved by God. Go forth and offer that to others. Including the skid-loader guy. 

Ed Olfert (p2peho@gmail.com) gives thanks for gifts offered to him.

Read more In the Image columns:
Welding a Mennonite reality
‘Stella makes a difference’
‘Bring your best self’
Modelling another way to healing
A tale of two clans

(Photo by Alden Jewell, Flickr)

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