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.
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.