I work at a camp. It's a large facility, and as the summer approaches we are seeing more a more staff come in. We all gather at the staff table for breakfast every morning, and these days there are over 25 of us in all.
I've worked at this camp on and off since I was 17. My parents work here and I have often found favor in being able to get a job in such a great environment.
When I was 17 I worked maintenance with an elderly man named Werner. Werner is from Germany. He came to Canada many years ago, moving to a farm near the camp. I have always enjoyed working with Werner because he is such a great source for knowledge. Not only would he teach me things about tractors and things, he also did it with a witty sense of humor. One day, back when I was 17, I had left one of the ride-on lawn mowers out at night. It had rained that night and, when we came to it in the morning it wouldn't start. Without missing a beat he told me that, "There are 2 things you should never leave outside at night; your wife and your tractor." He was funny, but serious at the same time. I've never forgotten that moment and I don't think I ever will.
Werner has a great command of the English language, but has a strong German accent that we've all grown to love. When telling you that you've done a good job he will say, "Good Yop!"
Another time, Werner and some of the other people at camp replaced the transmission on one of the tractors. The process involved literally splitting the body in half to get at the old part and replace it. Once they were finished, one of the other men took it for a spin. He came back with a big smile. "Runs like new!" To which Werner replied, "Just because you give the grandma the steroids doesn't mean she can have the baby."
14 years later and Werner still comes out to camp a couple of days a week. He has been faithful with the time and the things he has, donating a lot towards the camp, including the tractor from the story above. I always listen to what he says because he's worthy of my attention. And even though I'm much more mature than when I was 17, I still listen.
That day at breakfast, my boys were fussing about the eggs they had to eat. I tell them all the time that they need to eat the food they are given, even telling them that a lot of children don't have anything to eat at all. But what does that mean to a 3 and 5 year old? It's hard for them to understand such a thing, and I am gracious and patient towards them for it.
That day, I let it go.
So when Miles had finished his toast and sausages and oranges, and after I had argued with him about the eggs and finally came to an agreement ("Just take a bite of them, then you can be finished".) I told him that he could throw them away in the big garbage cans by the dish area.
The cooks always have to throw out food. We have groups here this Spring, some of them numbering well over 200 people, and you can never get the right amount of food made. So, in the end, a lot of the stuff that won't last a few days is thrown out. Miles took his dish over to the bin and dumped the pile of eggs in.
Later in the day, as I was walking to the shop, I saw Werner packing up his van for the drive home. He came over to me, and this is what he said.
"Brett, when I see your boy, your son not eating the food he is given, it makes me think. It makes me remember the times when, during the war, we kids did not have enough to eat. We starved. We were very blessed to have anything at all to eat. So when I see these good things on his plate and thrown in the trash I can't help but think that this is sin. I think that this is the parent's responsibility to make sure that the child takes just enough food. Then later, if he needs more, you get him some. But this waste, it makes me think of the times when we did not have things to eat."
At first, I felt the urge to defend myself. I tell Miles this sort of thing all the time, but he just doesn't listen. And usually we will make him eat everything on his plate. Werner just seemed to catch me on the wrong day.
But I swallowed that urge down and listened to him. I felt awful. I felt bad for the way we do things. I felt shameful that Werner needs to be reminded of this kind of thing when he comes out to serve at camp.
And the things he said weren't said in a mean way. They were said with a sadness, just how any of us should feel when we stare directly at the consumption and waste we plow through each day.
I told Werner I was sorry and that I'd work harder at teaching Miles and Jonas this kind of thing.
Before supper that night I got the boys together and showed them a picture of some little kids during WWII. It wasn't a shocking photo of starving children, just a picture of a group of kids standing around in dirty clothes, some of them without shoes, that kind of thing. I told them the story that Werner told me, about how he lived and what he survived. They said they understood, but I knew that it still wasn't a big deal to them. I can't blame them, of course; they're too young to grasp that kind of thing. We went to the cafeteria and they ate all of their food this time.
It was a valuable lesson for me. I will remember it every time I tire of teaching my kids the value of things.
The one thing about this that made me think is that these treasures like Werner aren't going to be around forever. If we keep letting our kids get away with things and if we feed them sugar, fat, and Playstations every day then they're probably not going to grow up thinking that things have a whole lot of value.
We've become soft, and we're making soft kids so that they can grow up to be soft people like us.
I am thankful for Werner. I am thankful for his wisdom. He survived WWII. His family literally escaped there just in time. And he lives near me now and works along side me. It is a privilege to have him around and I am determined to take what he says to heart and apply it to my life as much as I can.