Daily Work

By David B. Smith

Photo by Pixabay

What motivates my daily outbound journey from the 5:00 a.m. alarm bell each morning? It’s a really good and obviously recurring question. Phyllis Diller once sighed about her fictional ne’er-do-well husband Fang: “He turns on the weather report each morning. If it’s raining anywhere in the country, he goes back to bed.” I’m at least more ambitious than that! Let me dispense with the twin (but pro forma) replies: “I climb out of bed and fulfill my obligations in order to get my three carpool kisses from my wife Lisa. And also, according to ‘The Purpose-Driven Life,’ because I was created for God’s pleasure and honestly want to honor that.”

Beyond that, I am cheerfully motivated by a mundane number called a “Blackboard data entry.” I face around 110 different college students every working day. The way our math classes are calibrated, any day a student interacts with me – hears my lecture, takes good notes, turns in homework, brings me a jelly donut or some French fries from Baker’s across the street – a number goes into that computer grid. And in just that two-hour block a dedicated student essentially earns one percent of that semester’s grade, which I hope and pray will be an A or B.

What is on the other side of that mounting stack of Blackboard successes? A certificate or a transfer to a four-year college or university. Highly buffed up earning power. I am fond of tantalizing students with: “Listen, I got a dream for you, and it’s a paycheck with you earning 25 or 30 bucks an hour.” Nice house, stable life, health care coverage, kids in school, white picket fence, church on the weekends, ain’t life sweet now?

A recent presidential candidate (I'll never, ever blurt out who she is) is fond of quoting John Wesley, Methodist pioneer, with this credo about setting the alarm each morning: "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." And I recognize that it seems insignificant when a single mom named Magdalena takes a quiz in trig, and remembers how sine equals "opposite over Hypotenuse," and that this is the snapshot of Professor Smith's life and the payoff for the weekend hours I expended making an effective PowerPoint file.

But the reality is that many trig quizzes and words of affirmation accumulate into a successful four-semester math sequence and Valley College diploma, a series of baby steps which lead upward to glory. The great Narnia author, C.S. Lewis, once observed that every day (as we get of bed and sally forth to do good deeds) we are forever nudging other people toward either a good destination or a sorrowful one.  Every encounter is sacred, every moment important, every chance meeting significant. "There are no ordinary people," he concludes.

It's an amazing blessing to thrive in a life of service, and then once a month go out to the mailbox and almost cry out: "And they pay me?  Outtasight!"