At this charitable time of the year it seemed fitting for me to write about one of my favorite people. David Gustafson is ordinary in many ways – he went to college, pressed a career, raised a family, pursued various hobbies, from hiking to a fascination with airplanes, but inside he has a rare and tender soul.
David and I first met in a very demanding business environment. David was an HR manager in the difficult world of food processing. Three to four months of each year a plant runs 24/7 and is consumed with fresh pack of perishables which demands a staffing increase of 400-500 temporary workers, usually migrants. Historically, administrative staffing is insufficient to handle the crush of paperwork and problems. HR professionals like David work grueling schedules and deal with the best and the worst of human behavior.
Yet in the midst of the madness, I found David Gustafson to be an island of calm. He was stressed of course, but none of the ugliness rubbed off on him; he clung to his faith in humankind and treated all comers with fairness and good will. I marveled at his existence in this gritty world of manufacturing and told him often that he should be in a different job, one that valued his humanity.
Eventually we both left the madness but have kept in touch, and now I regularly follow David’s life on Facebook. It easy to see his emotions on the page, in the choice of subjects, the words he uses, the photographs that remind us of a simpler time.
- In David’s world, a hike is a devotion and becomes a prose poem . . . “The trail meanders through shadowy woods, the ground sloping down and away along portions of the path, rather suddenly depositing one onto high open meadows. The floor under the canopy, a thickly populated green carpet . . .”
- He shares pictures and stories of his mother who he adored in life and remembers fondly. “Growing up in Wellsboro, a rural community in northern Pennsylvania, she loved . . . drives to school in a one-horse open sleigh . . . snow muffled hoof-falls . . . snuggling with her little friend against the cold under a warm eiderdown.”
- David’s love of his wife is abiding and sweet. Just before Carol was wheeled into recent surgery, David collared the medical team with this plea: “She and I have known each other since we were kids; we’ve been married forty years, so please pursue every care.” “I love her,” he added, and so he does.
- A picture of a young child snuggled in David’s lap reveals all about his attachment to grandchildren, who he captures on FB under the title “Funny Little People.” Like 7-year-old Logan’s concern about a little boy and girl holding hands in school. “Can’t I wait until I’m in college to hold hands with a girl” was Logan’s plaintiff request. Yes, Logan’s mom agreed, then smiled.
- He wrote about his mountain hike with 5-year-old Gracie, dressed in purple plaid shorts and a “Frozen” sweat shirt with hoody, and carrying Banana her stuffed monkey. When Gracie indicated “Banana” was a little afraid of the height, David reminded her to keep holding Banana tight with one hand and his with the other. “Oh Papa,” Gracie said with a sigh of relief.
- At a family gathering in central OR, he took 2-1/2-year-old Amelia for a ride in a red wagon, then scooped up the sleepy child and held her on a rocking-bench on the porch. He began to quietly sing Christmas songs and before long he realized the baby was humming and singing the occasional lyric. “It is hard to describe these precious moments” he shared.
David writes of many things – the story of a friend who adopted a Downs Syndrome child . . . a favorite author’s essay on “Coming Home” . . . stories and pictures of his Scandinavian heritage . . . the questionable merits of Lutefisk (and a warning to friends to avoid the dish altogether). Whatever the subject, whatever the tone – humorous or worshipful – David Gustafson’s tender soul is there. Oh how lucky we would be if there were more Davids in this world.