Walking the Steel
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - I was still shaking the sleep from my eyes when the sun slowly crept up over the eastern horizon. Not wanting anyone to think I was afraid of what we were scheduled to do on this day, I rambled on about the weather, baseball, or anything else that popped into my mind. It didn’t matter what I said, the late model pickup truck I was riding in wasn't going to stop until it reached our destination.
Finally, when he couldn’t bear any more of my musings, Tremblay announced, “It seems as if College Boy is afraid to walk the steel today. What do you guys think?”
Before I could protest, Cody, who I considered my closest confidant that summer said, “College Boy, what is there to be afraid of? The worst that can happen is you fall 50 feet straight down and smack the concrete floor. I promise that we will notify your parents.”
“Say hello to Jesus for us,” laughed Tremblay mockingly.
That was all I needed to hear. For the remainder of the ride I was filled with enough anxiety and fear to last a lifetime. Not only was I about to attempt something I was terrified of, I would also have to do it with an atheist foreman and reckless jokester at my side.
In less than 20 minutes I would be required to essentially walk back and forth on a four inch wide piece of steel, 50 feet above the ground, for an entire eight hour day. If that wasn’t challenging enough, my role would be to carry four by eight foot sheets of aluminum roofing panels on my back to wherever they were needed. All for six dollars an hour!
To do this day, I still wonder why I was so determined to work construction that summer. It had been my decision. My parents had hoped I would spend another summer working at the summer camp kitchen managing the stock room. But I wanted something different, something dangerous, something with an element of adventure to it. The Buck Construction Company offered just that. Not only would I be paid a dollar more per hour but I would also get to work on location around the state. Translation: lots of freedom without any parental supervision.
The summer to that point had been an exercise in monotony. Because I had no discernable construction skills, I got the jobs that nobody else wanted. Primarily, I loaded the truck, unloaded the truck, and washed the truck at the end of the day. When I wasn’t performing some duty in and around the truck, I often carried supplies from one end of the worksite to another.
But not on this particular morning. One of the more skilled workers on our crew had been injured on the job the previous day, so my foreman had no other choice but to press College Boy into active duty.
Our truck finally pulled up beside the steel potato warehouse we would be roofing. The other guys bounded out of the truck, donned their hard hats, and began their ascent to the steel tightrope above. For them it was just another day.
I remained sitting in the truck, seemingly paralyzed by fear. How had I gotten myself into this? All I had considered when I took the job was the money and being away from my parents. It was my summer to become a man. But here I was peering out at the lush potato fields in all their splendor feeling more like an eight year old boy. Some man I had become.
A tap on my window brought me back to reality. It was my foreman, the one who didn’t believe in God.
“Now, whatever you do, do not look down,” instructed Tremblay. “If you do, you will be worm food in no time.”
“Don’t we have safety harnesses we can wear or something,” I lamented, as I slowly climbed out of the truck.
“Why would we want to do that? It would take the thrill out of it. What is the point of laughing in the rain if you have to wear a raincoat?”
Great. Now my foreman the atheist had become a philosopher. Furthermore, I had no idea what he meant by his raincoat analogy.
“Time’s a wasting College Boy. You need to get up on that roof,” Tremblay asserted.
With much fear and self-loathing I managed to ride the cherry picker to the roof. As instructed, I did not look down. Cody and Pierre were already hard at work riveting the roofing panels to the steel frame. They stopped what they were doing when they saw me and clapped their hands together in encouragement.
Initially, I was unsteady on my feet but as the morning progressed I got more and more comfortable walking the narrow stretch of steel that was only slightly wider than my foot. I was still very slow though. Despite the rhythmic hiss and pop of the rivet guns there wasn’t a more peaceful place to be. From our rooftop vantage point, we were surrounded by leafy potato fields for as far as the eye could see. You could actually see gentle breezes ruffling through the flowering crops in a variety of patterns.
But within minutes everything changed. The gentle blowing breeze suddenly gave way to a more vitriolic sway. Puffy cumulous clouds floating overhead were being replaced quickly by angry shades of gray. Behind us, a jagged jolt of electric intensity followed by a bellowing blast of sound was the final indicator. We were being surrounded by a sudden and fierce thunderstorm. You could actually see it moving toward us at a steady pace.
“Everybody off the roof now!” shouted Tremblay, from inside the building below. “And don’t use the cherry picker. It’s too dangerous. Use the wooden ladder.”
From where I was standing I could see Cody and Pierre moving quickly toward the ladder on the far side of the roof. Unfortunately, I was standing precariously on a narrow strip of steel, about 50 feet from the ladder and even further from the cherry picker. What was I going to do? I began to slowly shuffle my feet in the general direction of the ladder. That changed quickly when another ear splitting clap of thunder pounded in my ears. My shuffle became a sprint, as I unconsciously scrambled the remaining distance to the ladder. My co-workers later told me I looked like a squirrel running along a telephone wire.
I wasn’t on the ground longer than 30 seconds when Tremblay yelled, “Everybody to the middle! This storm is going to go directly over us!”
Cody screamed over the rain that was starting to slap the sides of the building, “But we are in a steel building without a roof on it! We need to run for the truck!”
“Too late,” Tremblay countered. “We are going to ride it out here. And whatever you do, stay away from the walls. Do not touch anything!”
In hindsight this was some of the best advice I have ever received. No sooner had my foreman said this when the building was struck by lightning. A bolt of blue, blinding light rode along one of the support beams until it extinguished itself in the ground, missing Pierre by less than three feet.
The ensuing five minutes were perhaps the most terrifyingly exciting moments of my life. As the four of us huddled together in the middle of the building beneath the driving rainstorm, two more bluish bolts rattled the steel structure around us.
After the second lightning strike I heard a familiar voice praying. He said, “Dear sweet Jesus, help us. Please get us out of this predicament. I feel responsible for these boys and I don’t want anything to happen to them. If you take anyone take me.”
I looked over to see my foreman the atheist, Tremblay, praying to Jesus Christ. I couldn’t believe it. This man who claimed there was no God just hours earlier was now praying with an earnest zeal. I reached out, put my arm around his shoulder and joined him in prayer. We offered our petitions to the Lord without ceasing until the storm had finally passed. Cody and Pierre apparently had prayed along silently too because when we were finished, both “crossed” themselves as many Catholics do.
“Close call, huh boys?” remarked Tremblay, as he reached for his cigarettes.
Cody and Pierre both nodded. Tremblay’s cigarette wouldn’t light because his matches were wet. We all laughed heartily as we watched our fearless leader try to find any dry surface to light up. He wasn’t going to find one because we were all soaked to the bone, including the building.
Sensing the levity of the moment I finally mustered the courage to ask a question that had been burning inside me. “So, Tremblay, I thought you said you didn’t believe in God?”
He stared at me blankly for a few seconds then threw his droopy, waterlogged cigarette into the distance. He finally said, “College Boy, what is the point of laughing in the rain if you have to wear a raincoat?”
I shook my head to indicate I didn’t understand what he was saying.
“What I am trying to say is … when it comes right down to it everybody believes in something. I’m no angel, believe me, but if I am going to live my life in this crazy world and not have some sort of security blanket to lean on than I am the one who is crazy.”
I sat back dumbfounded. If I understood him correctly, I think he was saying that we cannot go through this life unless God is with us. I tried to persuade him to talk more about it but he quickly changed the subject. But whether he realized it or not, Tremblay the supposed atheist foreman, had taught me an invaluable lesson about God.
Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place.”
Suffering and disappointments abound in our world. Failure looms, troubles run deep, and fear threatens to conquer us. However, these emotions cannot overpower us because there is Someone who rules over all human events.
He promises to never leave us and will go with us through the fires and deep waters. He lights our way in darkness so we won’t stumble. He will protect and deliver us. We are conquerors over fear because He conquered for us … His death for our life. His sorrow for our joy.
So I ask you the question, what is the point of laughing in the rain if you have to wear a raincoat?
Portions contained within this article from
the Transformer Study Bible.
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