Hard at Work

by Alvin Van Orden

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    First-Place ArticleIt wasn’t just the work I disliked. It was my co-workers. Then I rediscovered the second great commandment.

    I took one step into the air-conditioned house and collapsed into a chair. When my mom walked into the room, I gave her my best I’ve-had-a-rough-day-feel-sorry-for-me look. She looked at me for a moment and saw that I was covered with dirt and grease from the tip of my nose to my steel-toed work boots. Then she merely said, “How was your first day at work?”

    I was disappointed that she couldn’t tell just by looking at me how awful it was to slave for eight hours in a machine shop. But I was grateful for the opportunity to tell my sad story. Trying to get the most sympathy possible, I started with the best and made my way to the worst. I began by telling about the loud machines and the heavy lifting. It’s not easy to make someone feel sorry for you and still maintain your state of honor. However, 17 years of practice paid off, and I think I did an excellent job.

    Finally, I had built up to the worst part of my summer job: my co-workers. I told my mom how I was helping one lady shovel metal slugs when she began swearing. Now this was not unusual, but I must have given this woman an unintentional look because she began to defend herself. “I never used to swear before I started working here. If you work here long enough, you will too,” she said.

    On my break, I bought a pack of gum from a vending machine. As I began chewing a piece, one of my co-workers said, “You really should smoke instead of chew gum.” At the machine shop, a person doesn’t have to be on break to smoke, so two-thirds of the people I work with are doing it all day. After that comment, I thought, What have I gotten myself into?

    I finished my story by telling my mom that I wasn’t going back the next day. She had heard this line a million times before when I would come home from school, so she just nodded knowingly. When I told the rest of the family at dinner that evening, my dad said something like, “I think it will be a good experience for you. It’ll build character.”

    I went back to work the next day and continued to be repulsed by my co-workers and their lifestyles. By the end of the week, I was spending my break time outside in the sweltering heat instead of inside listening to their vulgar stories and inhaling second-hand smoke.

    At lunch I would drive to a nearby park and read the Book of Mormon as I ate. One day I had stopped reading and was thinking about my co-workers. Suddenly, something Jesus Christ had said came to mind. When I got home I found the scripture I had been looking for in Matthew 22:39. It says, “And the second [commandment] is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” [Matt. 22:39]

    All of this time, I had been thinking I was better than my co-workers because I didn’t smoke or swear. When I read that scripture, it really humbled me. It occurred to me that if I can’t learn to love my neighbor, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of my life is. The second greatest commandment isn’t to keep the Word of Wisdom. It’s to love your neighbor.

    I soon changed my attitude about my co-workers and tried to appreciate them for who they are. Less than a week later, my car broke down and I locked my keys in the car. My fellow employees were quick to help. I’m not sure what I would have done without them. It was then that I realized that despite some bad habits, they are still children of our Father in Heaven.

    At the beginning of the summer I wanted to quit. Then I learned to love others, and now I want to go back next year.

    Illustrated by Greg Newbold