My maternal grandfather was a deliveryman for Wonder Bread. He spent his whole working life--basically from the end of WWII to some time in the 80s waking up at 4:00 am and then driving around all day in a non-air conditioned truck lugging those big racks of bread. He did this 12 or 13 hours a day for most of his adult life.
Grandma did not work outside of the home in terms of having a paid job, but she worked. And worked. And worked. She cleaned and canned and cooked and sewed and gardened and volunteered in the community. To give you an idea, they had six kids and didn't have a dishwasher until I was in my teens.
It was not an easy life for either of them. After grandpa's retirement, things got better. For the first time in his life, Grandpa stayed up past 9:00. In fact, he got downright decadent, becoming hooked on "Hawaii-Five-O," which came on after the late local news. But they spent a whole lot of years working in ways that most contemporary Americans (myself included) would consider pretty tough duty. And, even after he was retired, Grandpa went to the parks and did hard physical labor for fun that most of us would consider inhumane were inmates forced to do it.
So, one might expect that at the end of their lives, Grandma and Grandpa would have been tired and beaten down by the sheer hardness of the work they had done as long as they had been alive.
You could assume that, but you would be wrong. In fact, it was exactly opposite. Grandma and Grandpa loved to work. They seriously enjoyed work. On holidays, they would work for fun. The felt that work was ennobling and worthy in and of itself--something one did because it was fundamentally valuable, regardless of the outcome.
I remember a conversation with my Grandma. I was in my early teens and I was helping her clean her kitchen or something. She asked me if I liked to work. I looked at her like she was crazy--I know I looked that way because I felt that way. I told her "No."
"That's too bad," she said. "You ought to learn to work and love it. It will make your life happy."
Like I said, when I was younger, I thought they were crazy. This was due in part to the fact that their daughter, my mother, had absorbed these lessons and was dead-set on making sure her kids knew how to work hard. So, I spent most of my childhood finding strategies to avoid work.
Now I think they are brilliant. Is there anything in life as constant as the need to work? If one could--as they did--come to the point where work was enjoyable, seen as a blessing, then one would always be engaged in something wonderful.
I'm not quite ready to become a bread deliveryman, or a 1950s housewife with few contemporary conveniences, but I've come around to my grandparents' view.
I am grateful--profoundly grateful--to have a job. Not just for the economic benefits it provides (although I'm grateful for them).
I am grateful for a job because I realize that working makes me human. It makes me alive. It pushes and drives me and gives shape to my energy and ambition. It makes physical and concrete what otherwise would be abstract. It refines and educates me, challenges and shapes me. Yes, I happen to like my job, but I am grateful for the concept and necessity of work. I realize that if I didn't have work--at the school, writing at home, gardening--I would be lazy and far less developed as I am. I know people who have lost jobs in this recession. They miss working. Not just a paycheck, but the actual work.
I think I get why the Lord told Adam that he would earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.
Grandma, you were right.
But more on this later.
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