The Sacrament of Work

There's an element of vulnerability in each of the jobs I do that sometimes shatters me.

The ex-offenders entrust their stories to me, the playwright, to find ways to communicate them to a broader audience. Today I heard stories of stabbings and molestation. And repentance. I am the keeper of these stories.

For my book project, I've been given the journals of a woman who died in a car crash. That her former husband would hand me this tall pile is humbling, and to read her private thoughts a sacred act. I met with the man who killed her because he would do anything for this family. He willingly gave me his very difficult story. Molestation. Murder. And forgiveness.

At the gym, one of my jobs is to clean exercise equipment. I know so many of the people who use these machines, their habits and schedules, that when I clean, I can picture who I'm cleaning for. I wipe away the sweat and dirt and make it new, for them.

A man I didn't know, running on a machine the other night, lied to me about his daughter's age. I caught him on it but tried to keep friendly, insisting that she could exercise today but not next time.

Later, as I cleaned a treadmill near him, he struck up a conversation. I stood holding my cleaning rags and talking; this posture, somehow, undid him.

"I'm sorry I lied," he said. "I'm so ashamed."

"It's okay," I said.

"I'm so ashamed." His family came back into the room. He had to leave; he moved toward the cleaning station in order to do the expected quick wipedown after his workout.

"I'll clean it for you," I said.

"No. Are you sure? No, I'll--"

"I'll do it."

I sprayed down the machine, and all that wasn't clean was wiped away.


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