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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The 'Sonrisa' - the smile; a blessed man with a blessed liife

I am wrapping up a tiling job on a new home located in the East Mountain area for a builder named Steve. He is a blessed man with a blessed life.

Steve's most recent East Mountain home is nestled in the foothills among hundred-year old pines and wild cedars.

The vistas are breath-taking and this man puts together a fantastic home. His attention to detail and work ethic are second to none.

In the three weeks since I first started the job, I have seen several sub-contractors come and go as they have completed their tasks. We have chatted and I am amazed at how they all comment on Steve's attitude; he is always smiling.

One of the workers told me that among the stucco crew, he is known as the 'sonrisa' - the smile.

I laughed when I heard that description but upon reflection, I found that name really does describe him.

What I found more compelling was that, workers, who typically tend to be overlooked or, worse yet, even dismissed will often complain - bitterly - of their overlords by making derisive remarks about them behind their backs. It stems from a lack of empowerment and the realization that they could never speak ill to someone who holds the power of their incomes and livelihood over their heads. Consequently, to hear the workers speak of Steve in this manner was something I found genuinely surprising.

Initially, I took in their nick-name for Steve as just run-of-the-mill, job site chatter. However, I soon realized that the descriptions of the six-foot tall, lanky man who wears hiking boots and shorts and flashes that goofy looking, toothy grin aptly fit. Moreover, it was a profound compliment because the crew was acknowledging the respect he offered them with his smile and accompanying gestures.

Shortly after lunch time - every day - Steve shows up with beverages and beer which he dumps into a beat up cooler. It is evident to me that this has become a ritual for him. Everyone in the various crews seem to barely acknowledge his kind gesture but, at day's end, it is common to see everyone sitting around instead of just gathering up their equipment and making a mad dash for home.

Additionally, I have noticed it uncommon for people to leave their trash strewn about the construction site. I'm convinced this has to do with the sense of reciprocity the workers feel for Steve; he respects them and they respect him.

Steve is not a pushy man. he never has anything bad to say about anyone. When he wants something done, he asks. His suggestions are just that - suggestions. When we were talking yesterday as I finished out the kitchen, he reflected on other tilers and some of the various techniques he had seen them use. I told him that since I was self-taught, I knew nothing about their techniques. I mentioned that tiling is full of short-cuts that make life easier. I am always looking for a better way so I really appreciated the 'shop talk'.

Steve then said something which I found as touching as it was profound. He spoke to me of an old tiler who responded to Steve's ponderous remark that he could do something a particular way. The old man said, "there are probably a hundred ways to do something but, today we are going to do it my way." Steve laughed and acknowledged that remark by saying, "Since then, I realized there are as many ways to get a job done and It is not for me to tell a man how to do his job."

Such a statement speaks volumes to me about who this man is and what his character is about. He is never to busy to say hello or offer smile. He is a thinking, caring man who is not too proud to be a servant despite his clear role as the property owner and builder. Countless are the times when he has gone out of his way to fetch supplies or do work around the job site like clean-up or fueling the generator up without any hint or complaint that such work is below his status.

On construction sites, we are all aware of the pecking order so, Steve's actions are noticed by everyone. I respect the man because he has not let his reputation as a premier builder in the East Mountain area affect his outlook on life and moreover, the way he treats the lowly construction worker.

I love my job because I get the honor of working among people who rarely receive either the acknowledgment or appreciation from people who stand to make big money off the sweat of the working man's brow. Steve not only pays well but, he treats his sub-contractors and their employees well.

I look forward his goofy grin and approachable demeanor. I admire him and respect him because, in a world where the unempowered can utter muted complaints, I have instead witnessed, over and over again - through words and actions - just how much the workers respect and admire him as well.

Thank Heaven for the sonrisas of the world.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday America - Who'll Stop the Reign?

Who'll Stop the Rain?
Creedence Clearwater Revival

Long as I remember the rain been comin' down.

Clouds of mystry pourin' confusion on the ground.

Good men through the ages, tryin' to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain.

I went down Virginia, seekin' shelter from the storm.
Caught up in the fable, I watched the tower grow.

Five year plans and new deals, wrapped in golden chains.
And I wonder, still I wonder who'll stop the rain.

Heard the singers playin', how we cheered for more.
The crowd had rushed together, tryin to keep warm.

Still the rain kept pourin', fallin' on my ears.
And I wonder, still I wonder who'll stop the rain.


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