21 February 2013

Lent: Work


What’s my relationship to work? Am I a slave to work?
In the beginning, around age 18, work was what I did for my money and it was a laborious task. As a younger man and father work took more clock time, much energy, and 12 hours recovery. Later on I worked to keep work in balance with study, exercise, reflection and renewal, and thanksgiving. Now semi-retired my labor takes somewhat less clock time, the same energy output, and my recovery takes more clock and calendar time. I've worked 45 years to this destination. I’m blessed I have education and gifts and talents and health to choose my work. So I’m not slavish nor am I enslaved. Nonetheless I must work because I only tolerate idleness for so long; in the end idleness is costly, boring, and my nemesis to my internal and spiritual health.
What do I mean now by work? In his Rule St. Benedict mostly means manual labor. St. Benedict said if one lived by the labor of your hands you really were a monk. Idleness was their soul’s enemy and had serious practical and economic costs. Work is the second longest segment of his ordered, prayerful, balanced and well-rounded 6th century living. He appoints 6 hours each day for work: 4 of manual labor and 2 for study. In 2013, for those fortunate ones who afford it, workout and exercise serve as manual labor.
Growing up my work was living in private schools. I worked 15 years studying with teachers and books, reading, writing, mathematics, science, foreign language, and exercise. I learned baseball, football, wrestling, soccer and swimming, and art history and photography. My mother added handwriting and ballroom etiquette and dancing and then I added girls.
When I was 18 I graduated from boarding school. I applied for work at The Republic Steel Mill in Cleveland, Ohio. I was assigned to a maintenance crew. The mill produced cold rolled steel. My task was to swab kerosene soaked brushes and wipe large bits of rotini-shaped steel off metal rolling pins stacked on a flatbed railroad car. Each car was rolled out as I completed swabbing the pins and a new car rolled in. They were transported to another area plucked by an overhead crane and carried and gently placed into even bigger machines that powered them. These machines flattened cold steel to specific thickness and width and extruded it into shiny neat coils ready for delivery. Another task was climb down underneath these behemoths and assist a crewman. We’d ladder 10’ down into a concrete pit beneath the whole unit. The unit straddled the width and breadth of the pit. I was one inexperienced boy-man on a dirty dozen crew of experienced United Steelworkers. I learned and earned more than I’d ever experienced, made, or dreamed of. I was shocked and I lasted 3 weeks.
As a young man I felt ashamed of my labor and some jobs; they were physically laborious and mentally painful. I was not reared or educated for them. This hobbled me and shaped my choices. In the beginning labor was simply beneath me. I’m certain my arrogance and anger showed and I made some life changing choices as a result. Later on acceptance set in and work was humbling and character building and many painful lessons I learned. I hope I never demean a person, never make my children feel ashamed, for the work they choose to do. It’s dreadful to shame a person for manual labor.
I’ve worked in many roles earning my way. I’ve bought and sold textbooks. I labored with a toy sculpture artist. I’ve delivered flowers, made cold-call door-to-door sales in city and town, drove a taxi-cab, swept grocery floors, secretaried in an art gallery, accounted for thousands of dollars as a bank teller and millions of dollars as a head-teller, and worked as a bookkeeper in a stamp auction company. I’ve done credit investigations and arranged credit lines in a major NYC auction house for buyers of fine art. I’ve worked in bookstores and loved it. I’ve made photographs of every kind with all analog camera formats and loved it. I’ve written advertising copy for print and radio medias for advertising agencies. I served as an assistant administrator in a church and loved it. Now I mow lawns with a push mower for pin money. And I pray while I mow.

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