Once upon a time, about 2;30 in the morning, there was an old woman walking the sidewalks of her hometown. The wind was blowing leaves and candy wrappers around her boots, but she only noticed the streetlights lined up like stalks of prairie grass on fire.
She walked slowly, her feet sore from hours of standing by the machines that created the widgets she was paid to make 10 hours a day. Stopping next to the stop sign she waited, as taught by experience, for traffic. She looked both to the north and then to the south. Each direction was dark with headlights, so she crossed unconcerned for safety.
Her travel was the same each day, west a block, cross the street, south two blocks, then west again until she reached the front steps of the building. This early morning, as the wind blew, she noticed a strangeness at the end of the block. It was difficult to make out, at first it seemed to be an old coat that someone had discarded. With a few more steps she saw, just for a moment, an old man curled up around a manhole, but then several heads lifted and she was oddly relieved.
The raised heads looked in her direction. With little fear or surprise the old woman continued towards them. Odd for this time of night she thought, but not completely without merit.
However, as she approached the intersection she saw what she saw.
Three sewer rats and two tom cats huddled around a Sterno can.
“Good evening” the old lady said stepping up to the huddle.
“Well, technically it’s morning” the darkest of the rats responded.
“Yes, you are right, forgive me. Good morning to you”
“And good morning to you old woman.”
The wind was picking up and it began to howl down the center of the street. Debris blew by, and as it did each rat grabbed out for what they could and stuffed it around the Sterno can. As they did this, the cats sifted through each item putting them in categories that did not make sense to the eye of the old woman. One pile had 5 leaves, two matchbooks, and the lid off a fast food hamburger box. The next pile had a paper coffee cup, an empty potato chip bag, and an old shoe lace.
The old woman bent down, her knees crackling with wear, and gathered up two tissues and a cigarette box.
“Where would you like these?”
“Oh thank you my dear, ” the largest of the cats spoke, “the tissues can go to the right and the cigarette box, hmm, well, that can go on a new pile. Quite a find you made.”
The darkest rat waddled over and sat next to her.
“We see you every morning walking these streets and you always take the same route. Are you looking for treasure too?”
“No.” she smiled. “I am going to my job to make widgets.”
“I see. What is the purpose of these widgets? ”
She sat down on the curb, her knees beginning to give way to pain.
“Well, these widgets are made, and sent to the next town where they are attached to the flange.”
“…and then?” his rat eyes peered up, not beady at all.
“I can’t say. I’ve never asked past that.”
The cats and rats were in a flurry now, scrambling to keep up with the items tumbling past the sidewalk. The randomness with which they gathered their bounty was invigorating to the old woman. Their passion uplifting.
“…and why do you do this?” the old woman asked.
The rat smiled.
“It’s what’s important to us.”
“Like making widgets.” she responded.
The rat looked away a moment, deep in thought. He then turned back to her.
“Why do you make these widgets?”
“I am paid, and with this payment I can eat, cloth, and house myself”
“Do you find beauty in these widgets?”
The old woman laughed. “Oh lord no, they are cold steels with spikes sticking out of them. Sometimes I stick my fingers on the spikes. It is very painful.”
He nodded. “We do this because we have to. There is no money. There is only beauty. We have a duty to ourselves to continue until we have found the ultimate treasure. We have been gathering bits and pieces for hundreds of years. Our ancestors, of many generations, taught us this skill. We are passing this on to our children, so they can pass it on to their’s. There is no money, only the love of doing it, and the hope that the others of our tribe will find occasionally joy to what we bring.”
“I think I understand.I wish I had more time to help you, but there is not time for such things in my life. I must go now or I will be late for making widgets.”
“Yes, you mustn’t be late for widget making.”
“Indeed not! I hope you find your ultimate treasure”, she rose from the curb with a solid groan.
“..and I pray your fingers stay safe today.”
There was a brief nod between the two and the old woman walked west to her building.
Accept other’s passion, even if you haven’t found your’s yet.
Never let a painful prick stop you from doing what you love.