At a loss of words

This is not about writer’s block, though I clearly get that from time to time. It is also not about missing my self-imposed and publicly announced deadline for the next installment on work. However, I DO apologize for missing that one. We had an incident at work on Tuesday that required additional time and attention on Wednesday.

But, excuses aside, I was sorely distraught today. I went from total disbelief in what I had lost to racking my brain as to where the forgotten item might be, to resignation at the inconvenience it represented. I mean, it wasn’t the end of the world, and I could still get my  work done, but it was the cause of lengthy, drawn-out sighs, and much consternation.

The day started well, and after I completed one easy task, I was well into my second task of the day, a 90-day crossing test that usually takes about twice as long as my normal 30-day crossing test. This particular location, however, has a few extra tests required because of some additional complexity in the design. Still, it wasn’t a particularly big deal, since I could break up the total task into smaller segments in order to get permission from the dispatcher to fit my tests in between south-bound trains. At one point, however, as I transitioned from one location to another, and from one task to another, I heard the dispatcher request I return my authority for that portion of track I was no longer using. It’s called “rolling up the track warrant”. I stopped what I was doing, made sure safety concerns were addressed, and made sure I still knew the limits of my authority on the track. It’s a critical decision, that, if not addressed properly, can result in a variety of really bad things happening.

So, on that front, all was well. Apparently, however, I placed my notebook containing notes on tests, notes on where I’ve worked, notes on where I need to do follow-up maintenance and what I’ve done for the last two months in a location not in the cab of the truck. Either that, or it fell on the floor, and I knocked it out of the cab with my foot as I stepped out for an inspection beside the track. I finished the inspections I needed to complete on the rail, set off the track, gave my authority back to the dispatcher, and then looked for the green notebook I use for the previously mentioned tasks and for marking my personal record of when I gave back my authority. Uh-oh. It was nowhere to be found. Here I am, in a safe place away from the track, ready for my off-track tests and inspections, and I couldn’t find my log book. Hmm.

Well, of course I improvised with a spare notebook, and continued on, but I didn’t like knowing I no longer have the last two months of notes. I was behind on scanning a copy. Oh, well, I guess. Aargh! And, of course, some meter readings from the first task of the day were there, so that would mean going back on Friday.

If you, dear reader, have ever lost critical notes, you know how it is. One tries to put it out of mind, like, “Oh, you know, I guess I didn’t really need it that badly.” Right. Especially in my line of work, though, one can’t afford to lose focus with such thoughts. It’s downright dangerous, so work slows a bit to compensate and make sure every “t” still gets crossed, and every “i” gets dotted. Meanwhile, thoughts like, “You know, maybe I left the stupid thing in that location, when I opened the door for inspection.” And hope builds, only to get stomped on. This cycle repeats itself a few times, and the better part of wisdom and experience tells me, “It’s time for lunch, anyway. I can stay safe while I’m eating lunch, and not stress about this.”

So, that’s what I did. I fueled the truck, and then took my lunch. I turned off the truck, and listened to the birds chirping while I ate my sub sandwich, and read from Andrew Lang. After 30 minutes, it was back to work, and it did help to just forget about it all for a short time.

I finished my appointed task efficiently, completely, and safely, and then I thought, “I wonder if I can just hy-rail to my next location instead of drive? That way, if I dropped it somewhere along the tracks, I might see it.” I really didn’t think I would, actually. I tried to be a realist about it. Happily, I noticed the train traffic had paused, and the dispatcher was nice enough to give me another go before shift change.

I stopped a few times to look in and around a few places I had stopped. Nothing. Then, just as I was a quarter mile from my set-off spot, I saw something white fluttering in the breeze along the ballast line. No way! (Way!) There, all splayed out like it was trying to sun itself, was my trusty notebook. Aha! I stopped in good order, and snatched it up like a kid winning a prize at one of those carnival games at the fair.

Here’s the weird thing, I suppose. In a way, I wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been my personal journal. I mean, yes, the world would have lost some so-so poetry, or some drawing of a cool invention for the farm. But really, I guess I figure some of that’s backed up, and what isn’t, well, it either wasn’t good enough, or it will be better the second time around. But, the other notebook is a combination of historical document, cheat sheet (for stuff I need to remember), and informal list of stuff to order and stuff to do.

At any rate, though I wasn’t exactly dancing a jig, or clicking my heels, I was quite pleased. All was well with the world.

Isn’t it odd how the little things just turn our world into a knot? The other thought that came to mind as I was driving home today, “How much more should I search, almost in desperation, for words that are even more important?” I’m thinking here, of writing (and, okay, texts probably count, but surely, cards, letters, and emails) from loved ones, but even more importantly, the very Word of God. Solomon ben David wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” — Proverbs 2:1-5.