My first job was a paper route for the Moline Dispatch. I was 10 years old when I started and covered the mile and a half route mostly on a bicycle, often on foot, and occasionally with dad’s help in the family car. My syblings soon were conscripted to deliver to sections of the route.
My next job came during the summer after eighth grade and lasted about a month for a wonderful man named Loran. I had applied for a social security card and a work permit. I still have that social security card but was denied the work permit because I was too young…I was 13. The next summer I started working for Loran—every summer until I went away to college.
Loran owned his own small shop where we sold auto parts, appliances, and bicycles and repaired everything. I learned customer service by waiting on customers, TV repair by testing tubes, how to mount and balance car tires and I became the best bike mechanic in town. I loved that job and Loran and learned more about life and things we don’t learn in school.
I rode to work with Loran and then home with him in the evening. We would review the day and what we had learned—from the guy who walked in wanting piano parts (“did you notice the sign on the building, ‘Auto Parts’?” Or the guy who brought in his lawnmower because it would start and run then stop without apparent cause. When we identified the problem and fixed it, Loran asked him if he had a son about 3-4 years old and furthermore whether he had a dog. Yes, and yes. Loran told him the lawn mower was perfectly fine but somebody had put dog poop in the gas tank and it would occasionall block the fuel supply, shutting off the gas. We would tell the stories and laugh all the way home with Loran summarizing our experiences with the mantra, “Pat, everybody is a little odd except you and me….”
I have reflected on Loran’s wisdom over the years when thinking about family, classmates, students, friends and co-workers. It helps to know that everyone is odd and to be able to laught about it. Jesus found imperfect people, too. He taught them, healed them, forgave them, and laughed with them (“He was like us in all things but sin”).
Loran’s complete quote is “Pat, everybody is a little odd in life except you and me, and I ain’t so sure about you.” Aha, the complete wisdom statement. Ponder that.
Fr. J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Public Service at DePaul University and Values Director for Depaul International, an organization that serves homeless people in seven countries.