Jerry knew what was what in the world. Needing employment after high school, he started working construction sites. First as a laborer, then as a concrete form builder, and finally as a carpenter. Jerry had wanted to go college, but when Mary got pregnant, that dream folded, and a 6 day work week became the norm. One day, while cleaning up the job site, he came across a neon green tape measure. He placed it in the roll-around toolbox, thinking that the guy who lost it would have a better chance of finding it there. And there the tape sat for months. January rolled around, and the studs needed to be laid out on the fourth floor. At least it was inside work, and Jerry wasn’t having to run the dry wall crew. Good thing too, because he was on a regular diet of Ibuprofen and cigarettes. Much more heavy lifting and he’d be done for.
Reaching down for his tape, Jer accidentally flipped it off his tool belt, and it plummeted through an unfinished HVAC penetration to the floor below. He sent his apprentice after it, but the hard impact had damaged the spring, and now it would not recoil.
“Dammit, not what I need today; the sparkys will be here to run the electrical tomorrow, and we got to get these walls done. Is that goofy green tape still in the job box? Go get it, and while you’re there, grab me a few Tums.” Jerry and his apprentice started to lay out the new walls, and everything was normal ’til just before break. The apprentice pulled the tape, walking to the projected corner. Jerry watched the numbers, then called out –”Ho…” Double checking the tape, though, he didn’t see numbers, but rather a message: Your girls will marry well. “What the… ”
Jerry blinked, refocusing his eyes; he wouldn’t let his apprentice see the confusion in his face. That’s what he thought –
“Yea, mark it 16’4”. There was minor twinge in his left arm, but he ignored it.
“Come on, let’s eat.” he said, mostly to cover for the strange feeling he was starting to have. He hadn’t really seen that, had he?
“You alright Jer? You don’t look so good…”
“I’ll be ok after break” 30 minutes raced by. Jerry still felt odd, but the walls weren’t going to build themselves, He sent his apprentice out again. And again there was a note: Mary will be ok. Every dimension, there was another reassuring fragment. The house is paid for. The girls will go to college. Your investments are sound. But his anxiety continued to mount, and he was starting to sweat. One last wall and they’d be done. Jerry dreaded looking down. You did a good job. You measured up. Jerry jerked the taped as he collapsed. Now the green tape too, was broken, and wouldn’t recoil.
****** The Measure of a man.
By Jeffrey Hite
“When I joined the priesthood this is not something that I expected to be doing.” Father George Mathews told the interviewer. “I mean there are not many Priests in space, Really there is not much call for them, but I guess I fit the bill.”
“Yes, I thought it was rather odd myself when I got the request to interview you. I didn’t realize it was going to be a very long distance conversation. But there are many people here on earth that know about you and want to know more about what you do. So can you tell us more that about?”
“Most people that work in space are not much on religion. There is a large gap that normally exists, it is almost like you can believe in the science that powers your ship or you can believe in God. I see no reason why there is not room for both. God created the universe and everything in it, even the science that powers your space ship. This is the first half of my message. The second half of my message is helping those who feel called to the faith, but feel that they don’t measure up. Out here with the great vastness of the universe it is very easy to feel very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There is more to it than that, but those are the two basic concepts.” He paused the recording then thought about his answer. It was going to take more than two hours for him to get the next question, so he tried to anticipate the questions that might be asked in response to his answers.
“There are other things that I do of course. My normal job is to travel along the trade routes, from the inner solar system to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the stations in the middle. As I near a ship or station or base, I hail them, let them know who I am and ask to come aboard. As part of that, I try to say Mass and hear the confessions of any one who is interested. Some times I am welcomed and some times I am not. In those places I try not to over stay my welcome, but normally when they hear that I am a priest I am at least granted access to board, and offered a meal.”
He thought back to to the last few times he had boarded ships where there was little or no call for him. The last time had been aboard a lunar freighter, There were twenty three passengers, and none of them really wanted to see him, but he could tell that he was needed there.
“Father, welcome to the Waverly. I don’t see why you want to board our ship, we have no need for a priest here, but I will offer you the use of our dining facility, as I am sure your little ship has little in the way of accommodations.”
“Thank you Captain you are kind. My ship suits me fine, but I appreciate your hospitality. You have no one on board that would like to talk to a priest?”
“No Father,” He said with an edge in his voice that made it clear he was uncomfortable with the subject.
“Very well. Will you join me for a meal?”
“Fine but, keep your religion to yourself, or you will be taking your food in a to go bag. Are we clear?” This was a pretty typical response for a nonreligious.
“That is fine with me. I just don’t get to talk to all that many people and it would be unfortunate to be this close to humans and not get a chance to talk to one or two.”
“Well…I can understand that. Our engineer says that you have only the most rudimentary communications” He said leading the way to the galley. “They suit my needs. I have found that it is not what you have, but what you possess inside that counts.”
“Now father I told you about that religion stuff.”
“No offence meant my son, I meant in the mind.” He said tapping his temple with his index finger.
“Oh I see, well yeah I can see that, but it does help to have things around you that make the trip easier to deal with. I mean, when we want to talk to, earth or any of the other space ports we have video and holographic capabilities, and then there is the whole video library that we can view, everything that comes out, in any of the major media outlets we have in a few hours. We all have the latest in sound quality in our cabins. I even found a sound dampening method that prevents the other crew members from having to hear each other, even when they are in adjoining cabins.”
“Very Interesting. How do you socialize, if you can’t hear each other?”
“Oh they have com units if they want to talk to each other, but most of the time, they are either on duty or in their own cabins enjoying the modern amenities. Those can take the place of just about anything.” The rest of the meal was spent on small talk, and news from the inner system. The captain had shown him all of the fancy gadgets that made life better for him, and how they had revolutionize the lives of the space traveler. I had been a dizzying experience. For a long time after that meeting he had thought about the possibilities of the upgrades he could make to his ship. He certainly had the money. His monthly stipend from the Vatican had sat mostly untouched since he left earth ten years before. He had no need for the money here. Maybe it was time to update a little bit. But the he remembered something. When he had been a child on earth, the parish priest, had given a homily one Sunday that, had led him into the religious life in the first place. It had been about another priest that had missed the point. He had collected names and titles and many many objects that meant a great deal to him, but none of them, not a one, brought him closer to God. He started the recording again,
“My primary job here in space is to help others remember that, just because we have the heavens laid out before us, that does not put us on equal footing with God. And no matter what miracles of science, titles or great ships or even fleets we collect, none of of that can bring us any closer. All we need in this life, is inside ourselves. I try to help people understand that, try to get them to use that as their yard stick, when they prepare to measure the value of their lives.” He transmitted the message then. That should answer just about all of their questions he thought.
The Measure of a Man by Jeffrey Hite is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at greathite.blogspot.com.