Every year, and always in the high heat of the summer I get a project going that involves heavy physical labor, bucket loads of sweat and a flirtatious dance with heat stroke. This year is no exception. Last week I had 15 cubic yards of stone delivered and dumped in an out of the way place. It’s only been a few days (in the 90’s) and I have already taken a decent bite out of the pile. I’m moving the stone to various locations on driveways, parking areas and other sites where it will do some good. I shovel early in the morning and observe the sun as it rises spreading that early summer light that is almost horizontal, and so beloved by those with a bent toward the “artistic”.
I called this latest paper thin slice of the absurd “Meditation” because that is what hard physical labor provides me with in a way that no other method, school or technique ever has. It’s my favorite kind of work. It’s the kind of work that lets you see all along that you are accomplishing something. Every shovel full the pile gets smaller, and with every wheelbarrow load the area being covered with new stone gets larger and neater looking. I get a good feeling out of that. Some of it is the hard physical exercise, I know, but I never get that kind of a feeling from hard exercise unless it is accomplishing something. I have long been of the opinion that “working out“… as so many of my fellow humans do, in a gym, spa, or, establishment loaded with mechanical equipment meant to “isolate” various muscle groups for attention is incredibly stupid. When I look around I see that there is SO MUCH work that needs to be done! SO MANY things and places that could, with work, be made to shine and into something we can be proud of.
It makes you wonder about a country with SO MUCH work that needs doing and… (wait for it)… NO jobs.
But work… hard physical labor anyway is a funny thing in American culture. Just saying that I enjoy it opens up a whole can of worms. Am I just being elitist? Isn’t it elitist to say you love physical labor when you have more degrees than a thermometer and never HAVE to do any, other than for “recreation”. It certainly could be. It’s not in my case.
I’m one of the lucky bastards that has a choice. I don’t have to pick up a shovel every morning and do hard manual labor to put food on the table. But, I’m lucky enough to have experienced times when I did. It taught me more about life than any professor, book, or, class I ever took. It’s almost funny when I look back on it now. How much I learned about being human without knowing I was learning at all.
As a culture we reserve the dirtiest, hardest and most lowly work for those on the short end of the stick. The backbreaking, rip your body up, work is done by those we see on the lowest place on the cultural totem pole. The “Dirty Jobs” we call them, and you are supposed to get a good education so that you don’t have to do them. The Dirty Jobs are the jobs you DON’T want your children to grow up to do. You want them to be better than that.
You want them to be “Better than That”.
I have news…. Being an investment banker who fucks people out of their life savings, or, a salesman who convinces people they need something they really don’t, or, an office worker who pushes paper around, or, a government employee who spends his/her day hiding from responsibility or anything that even comes close to honest work, or, a teacher who died of boredom years ago, but, still shows up every day, or anybody who does ANYTHING for “The Money” and for the money alone IS ANYTHING BUT ….. Better than that.
Those are life’s losers.
Those are the depressed.
Those are the fools who sell their lives for money to buy things they don’t need, and then wonder how it all went wrong.
Those are the people who never had the luxury of looking down at something they did with their hands and thinking to themselves….. God Damn…. That’s something I can be proud of.
People who understand that feeling built the world and everything good in it. All the others can offer is ten thousand ways to fuck it up.
(If you don’t understand any of this, perhaps, it was just the heat. Perhaps Mrs. N. just stayed out in the sun too long today. I don’t rightly know. But, I know this. If you tell a person to dig a hole, put a shovel in his/her hand and come back half an hour later…. That hole will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about them.)