Whether you use brains or brawn, it’s still work

This week I’ve been week helping a friend who’s renovating a 50-year-old beach cabin. I enjoyed the physical work – a break from desk, being in the moment rather than planning, organizing, writing.

A sore back from peeling tile all day is nothing compared to what some folks do day after day.

A sore back from peeling tile all day is nothing compared to what some folks do day after day.

It was fun, at first, and I started thinking about being a laborer and not a writerer (!) But after awhile, when my back started to ache and my hands were shaking from holding constant tension on a putty knife, I began to appreciate those who work with their bodies all day.

While I was using a chisel, hammer and knife to peel, scrape and chip away at a floorful of asphalt tiles, my friend was in the kitchen – moving a gas line, rewiring  electrical boxes, cutting and laying insulation.

During a break I whined my lower back hurt; he commented but didn’t complain about his upper back. I said I thought peeling tile was easier than writing because I didn’t have to think. He said that’s why some people get into the trades – they can do a hard day’s work, go home tired and not think about that task again until the next day.

We talked about people we both know who have been or are still laborers.  We know guys who have given it up because it’s hard on their bodies. What 50-year-old wants to work on a roof, or install a new boiler in some old basement, or spent hours leaning over a putty knife peeling ancient tiles off a cement floor?

We know guys who are still at it because they have nothing else. Were lucky these folks are still around when we need a good handyman. They are “Jacks of All Trades,” these guys. And we pay them so little an hour given what they put themselves through to accomplish our tasks.

So today, I’m especially grateful to those who have given themselves to learning a trade; to all those I’ve ever asked to repair a broken water main (only inches from the foundation) or replace a roof or paint a kitchen or haul mulch to my garden. Thanks to those who go home aching at night on our behalf; to those who have lost digits (my dad) or limbs or worse. True, they were “just making a living,” but they were also making life easier for us to live.

Years ago I was complaining to a colleague about some office BS. To which he replied, “That’s why they call it ‘work.'” Huh. I can hear Dire Straits, “That ain’t working.” I guess I did mess up my lower back schlepping projector boxes through airports. Or maybe it was from those years of wearing high-heels all day.

Most people I know work hard at what they do, whether it’s managing or teaching or patrolling or nursing or … but right now, I’m especially grateful to those who truly toil. Thanks for your hard work.

2 responses to “Whether you use brains or brawn, it’s still work

  1. Thanks for the thump on the side of the head. As I read I remembered a very cold winter day when I dreaded even walking from the house to the car. It was wet, cold, rainy … A perfect day to snuggle in on the sofa with a blazing fire crackling away. That evening my nephew the apprentice plumber came over for dinner. He was currently working on a new apartment complex installing bathrooms. Much to my surprise he worked that day, as in outside, under roof part of the time, but in a raw building. Nope the heating contractors had not yet done their work. There was no question what our next gift would be … A set of those outdoor weather coveralls you see on a fistful of tradesmen at McDonald’s for lunch. Nothing like that experience to make you feel like a weenie and adopt an attitude of gratitude for those who trade the warm crackling fire for the bone chilling labor.

  2. Work is good! Look at the econonmies that do not have work for their people. Those countries are in dire straits. I have been fortunate in my working career to use brains & brawn; still working mechanical construction daily. The old back is still working like it is supposed to.
    Jobs that have been completed are fire stations, police stations, hosptals, clinics, ski hill snow making systems, schools, data rooms, hotels, a Sears, and warehouses. Employing young people, training them, and being resposible for their lively hood has been very rewarding. This seasons jobs are falling into place again. Keep on Working.

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