Friday, August 30, 2013
The Working Class
In a time when class distinctions and attitudes prevailed, John Ruskin believed there were two classes of people: the working and the idle. Both types exist among the rich and poor, hence the idle rich and idle poor become one class, the working rich and working poor another. He was encouraging understanding, acceptance, and respect among workers within all economic conditions, a focus on character and productivity rather than status and education.
Work is a curse and a blessing. We labor under its burden, we are lifted by its benefits. Its burden may be physical or psychological or both. The same is true of its benefits. They may be small or great, trivial or deep, transient or lasting.
Some winters ago, I spent two weeks in California’s Central Valley, working alongside a contractor friend, David, who was building two additional complexes for a boys' home. As we were hanging a set of doors, David remarked, “This is work!” I looked at him and said, “To me, it’s not.” True, my arms ached, my back was in a sweat, the splinter in my palm was burrowing in, lunch was too far off and always too soon to go.
I was not alone. I was not staring at blankness, grasping for inspiration. There were no contortions of ideations throbbing in my head. I was not on deadline. It was not the eleventh hour; this was not a painting I had labored over for days, or even weeks, that was going awry, that thousands of viewers would judge positively or negatively or with indifference, that the author would stake some of his or her hopes on, that I would actually be paid for, succeed or fail ....
This was not a year-long—or two-year or three—literary work.
This was a house. It would be a home. A home to some troubled young men who perhaps had no home, or who’d had no welcome offered from anywhere or anyone else.
However frequently the frosty mornings chilled my bones, the distant Sierras warmed my senses. However often my trigger-itchy finger (firing multiple nails when only one would do) sent David scurrying for cover, his laughter eased my chagrin. However occasionally the back-burdening hauling of lumber dulled my zeal, I considered this work to be a respite for me. And I considered the point of it all.
As I sit writing at an open window this evening, listening to the stillness, the crickets, the intermittent rain, I think how blessed I am. To have a home, to be at home, working.
Illustration from an early 20th-century poster, artist unknown
This is an edited repost from Penchant