“When can we go?”
“When your fingers go numb.”
It was 4 AM and I was standing with my father surrounded by reams of paper in the basement of his old print shop. While most of the girls in my high school were probably hitting REM level sleep, I was helping to collate a journal for some corporation’s annual gala. We were a blessed family, but as I was always reminded, those blessings did not come without hard work.
In his trademark plaid shirt, Docker’s trousers and glasses he bought at Sam’s club (because they were “all the same anyways”) my father was my living definition of what hard work looked like. Up at 5, slept when he could but usually was on his feet. Going from a factory worker repairing McDonald’s machines to a business owner with a fully staffed shop, he was one of the stories you read about towards the end of your history textbook when the publishers wrapped up everything from 1985 to 2000 in a neat little bow.
But nothing was ever that neat and on this particular night, the machines that made the noise of a thousand garbage trucks had stopped working altogether. The staff had long gone home and the backups (aka me and my mother) were down by one on account of a newborn sister who needed attention and breastfeeding. And so it was back to the old-fashioned way: rolling up our sleeves, laying out each sheet on a table that stretched the length of my father’s building and beginning the process of collating 1,000 30 page books with gold leaf inserts and center photo page.
I remember thinking that night that whatever I did when I got older, it wouldn’t be this. It wouldn’t be something that took away my nights and kept me from being able to enjoy sunsets and the little things in life. I was miserable, tired and furious. Not that I was there but because I knew that when my eyelids felt heavy in 3rd period no one would understand.
As I began putting together what felt like the millionth set of pages, I heard my father humming. Though he was in a cold basement at 4 AM, he was humming a Phil Collins song he must have heard on the radio earlier that day. While my face looked bleaker than the cement floor, my father was humming.
What that night and every one of those nights that came after taught me was that when you are truly dedicated to your purpose, you can do the work it takes until your fingers go numb. My father may have hated putting books together till finger cuts were not worth mentioning but in his spirit he knew it was all a part of what he had asked for. Those 4AM moments were just a moment in the grand scheme- it was what he had to give back. Seeing him work has changed the way I approach every single day. Because when you are sure that what you are doing is what you’ve been put here to do, no matter what it feels like in a given moment you’ll still have reason to hum.
Today, remember your purpose even in the moments that tempt you to forget. Keep you spirit bright and do what you need to- hum until your finger go numb.