Opinion Columns & Blogs

The once invisible has become a thing of beauty

It is safe to say there are many things in the world we have not seen. I will take it a step further and say that many things we haven’t seen are right in front of us.

Unless we have a reason otherwise, it is easy to miss things and not pay much thought to them. I better realized this notion when I started working for the first time.

The first job I ever had was through a Tacoma Public Schools summer internship program. On my application I was asked to rate my interests from highest to lowest. With ease I selected landscaping/grounds maintenance as my lowest, as I knew all too well from my forested backyard that I did want to make a career of its upkeep.

I made my message pretty clear in my application, but the selection committee made theirs just as clear back. I was selected for an interview with Tacoma Public Utilities to be on its grounds maintenance crew. I guess rating my interests were just mere suggestions.

I passed the interview, got the job and was on my way to working grounds maintenance for the City of Tacoma.

Now most of us have been around Tacoma quite a bit. You may have noticed those large electrical substations fenced off from the public. In some ways, they are hard to miss. However, you may have missed the beautifully landscaped lawn, trees and foliage surrounding these stations. I know I did.

My primary role at TPU was to care for the landscape surrounding these substations all throughout Tacoma. Seems easy enough, right?

It was much easier work when I wasn’t the one doing it. But with all the necessary tools at hand, along with my steel-toed boots, that summer I helped make those substations look as pristine as the White House lawn. I didn’t just do the work, I took pride in it.

For someone who despised landscape maintenance (and I did), I ended up forming meaningful relationships with those substations.

On days after work, if I happened to be driving by one of them I would gaze and admire our finished product. On weekends with friends, I would always make sure to point out a passing substation I helped care for - not only because I was a part of it, but also because it was beautiful. Just weeks prior I was unaware of the substations’ existence, and now I would never miss a chance to sneak a peek at one of these well-kept habitats.

Eventually the internship came to an end, and the summer days drifted into the fall school year. I returned to the familiar setting of school and my accustomed role of student. But of the many lessons I took away from my first job, I learned we can miss many of the things right in front of us, all the way up until the point where it becomes our job not to.

To this day I will take a gander over at the landscaped substations I once maintained. I do not reminisce about hot days in work boots and jeans, or of the relentless weed pulling, but of pride and beauty - of something I once never even noticed, but now, I can’t miss.

Ben Kastenbaum of Tacoma, a graduate of Stadium High School and the University of Puget Sound, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at benkastenbaum@gmail.com.