We benefit from the good work of thousands of people every single day. Stop for a moment and consider: whose work is loving and serving you right now? Are you sitting in your home or a coffee shop, enjoying a carefully controlled temperature made possible by HVAC installers and engineers? Look up. Do you ever think about the stability of the ceiling above your head? Probably not, and that’s because of the good work of carpenters and roofers, architects and inspectors. Pause for a few minutes and look around at the chairs and tables, TV sets or books lining your shelves. The words of the authors and imaginations of the designers that fill your home don’t stop working when they clock out. Work done well continues to work long after the product or service is complete.
I was particularly contemplative one day about the way that our work connects us as a community. It was a beautiful morning, crisp with soft light. I was enjoying the park with my baby girl and my pup when I noticed a city employee cleaning nearby. I stopped and said, “Thank you for the work that you do, I’m really grateful for it.” His response was simple, honest and deeply profound.
He emphatically thanked me for the encouragement. It clearly meant a lot to him. It also meant something that we enjoyed this park, one plot of land that he was called to steward. Knowing that the fruit of his labor was sweet to us, was a gift to him. In his gratitude he began to tell me how he found his way into this work.
“I grew up a few blocks from here and my mom used to walk us three miles away for us to have a safe park to play at. When I would walk by this park and see the workers I would say, I want to be one of those guys one day, and here I am 50 years old, and I’m one of those guys,” he shared.
He went on to talk about how it was discouraging that the park still wasn’t known for being a safe place for families to come and enjoy our wonderful weather. Those long walks he took as a boy were decades passed. He longed for change then and through decades of daily work he still longs for it.
I think it was his demeanor that made his words echo in my head. He said what he said with contentment coupled with grief. The words of a man who has lived and worked in a few square miles for half a century. It was a dream come true to be able to take care of the park he passed by so many times. A dream that most of us overlook. Maintenance work isn’t celebrated in our culture. Work that sustains the systems and structures that we all benefit from is often minimized or overlooked. Perhaps we don’t have the deep and steady love for where we live that is required for this sort of sustaining work.
We love change and transformation on a large scale, but how about the transformation of fresh-cut grass or a new coat of paint. It’s easy for us to imagine the ways a teacher loves her students or a nurse his patients. But the way our park employees promote clean, safe places with their dirty, hard labor- do we have eyes to see? There is no question that we put certain jobs on a pedestal, casting a shadow on “lower forms of work.” The sociologist and the politician wrestle with the same questions that this park employee described that day: how can we seek flourishing for the young and the old in our city? For those who have homes and those who don’t?
But while we debate and study, sometimes fruitlessly, he shows up everyday and loves both through the work of his hands.
Written by Teena Dare.
Teena lives in Tucson, Arizona and loves to capture the passions of others with words. Find more of Teena's work at www.shakingspirits.com.