St. Catherine of Sienna said it…

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…All the way to heaven is heaven…

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All the way to heaven is heaven…

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All the way to heaven is heaven!

I work in a holy place, a place of healing, and I’m lucky enough to know it.    My dad worked in a holy place.  He was a clerk in a pre-supermarket food store.  He tended the produce.  He made sure that his customers had fruits and vegetables no less than he would bring home to  his own family.  In fact, when my mother shopped at The Hartford Market, the place where he worked from the 1930’s through the ’40’s into the ’50’s when it was sold to the chain that destroyed it, she would never buy from him.  His co-workers, she was well aware, would “take better care of  her” when it came to watermelon and corn and fresh spinach and red onions and peaches and, yes, even iceberg lettuce.  img_30463

My dad didn’t want me to work in a grocery store.  One day in maybe my freshman year at Hartford Public High School I stopped by to hang out with him.  Even then–before our run-in at the Wooster, Hartford’s great and ancient poolroom–it was cool to hang out with my dad.  He was down in the room off the big refrigerator.  The shelves weren’t cooled back then, so his day would begin with carrying his stock up from the basement refrigerator and end with bringing whatever leftovers back to their cooling place.  Today he was making up fancy baskets of fruits for hospital shut-ins and folks leaving on fancy ocean cruises.  Each basket received equal attention.

Most unusually Dad worked without words.  My every attempt at conversation–we both talked eagerly of sports and politics–met with silence.  I sensed nonetheless he was telling me something, but I didn’t know what.  After perhaps an hour I said some dumb thing about how hard he worked.  He put down his cutting tool and looked over at me.  There was no expression on his face.

“I work hard so you won’t have to.”

He went back to silent work.

There were so many messages in what he did and said, but the ones I carried away and continue to carry may well not have been what he had in mind: first, the importance and beauty of  what he did.  For all I know my love of art and willingness to even make some of it may well have begun by seeing how he placed fruit together on a display rack or in a basket.  My love of work may have originated in watching this man who meant so much to me at his work.  He never spoke of the importance of what he did.  Perhaps he didn’t see it that way.  I however did.  Just as now I see the importance of what I do.  Secondly, I felt–perhaps for the only time in our life together–his love for me.  Third, the sheer nobility of work done fullheartedly.

So here are my questions to you: What’s your work?  After salaries and health benefits and vacation time and job titles are put aside, once you get past those labels of “special” and “good” and “prestigious” and “important” and, yes,  “meaningful”  what is your work really about for you?  Who benefits from your efforts?  Do you build buildings?  Do you make them clean and safe?  Do you teach others or provide them with their clothing or tools?  Do you contribute to the wealth of information which increasingly dominates our world?  Do you contribute to justice being done or hours otherwise spent in boredom being made entertaining?

Write something!  If you have a website showing what you do, send a link.  Whatever, put it in the Comments box.

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Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 10:55 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I attended a four-part lecture series last year called “the theology of work” by a professor who is developing a full-semester course (and book) of the same title. I’d love to discuss it with you, after reading your post!

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  2. The apples are inspiring.

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  3. Reminds me of playing pool with my dad at that place on 14th St. Also, your photo work is back up to par with your old stuff. I always loved your photos. It was part of what sparked my interest in photography. Your sketches ain’t too shabby either. Nothing relevant to post on the actual subject at hand, but I am reading your posts.

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  4. After 45 years teaching in a low income Middle School:

    * What is it about for me? Being able to give that one child, age 8 or 15, the hug that he/she needs to make it through the day.

    * Who benefits? Both of us – myself as much as the students.

    * What do I build? Character – also for both of us. And most of my students have “characters” at home that they would be best NOT to emulate!

    * Yes – I teach AND I also provide a great deal of clothing throughout the school year. Most recently to an eighth grader who has no heat in his bedroom. He greatly appreciated the flannel sleep pants and the (as my husband calls them – a “step up” from the potatoes he used to take to bed with he and his 19 brothers and sisters) “thing” he heats in the microwave each night before he goes to bed to keep his tootsies warm.

    * I hope most (maybe I’m asking too much) of my students leave me with tools to enable them to be, as much as possible, productive citizens when they leave high school.

    * That’s why I’m still working 180 days every year – 45 years later – teaching grandchildren of students I once taught and – yes – I see many of these parents when they bring their suspended children back to school (dressed in jammies, slippers, and T shirts with unmentionable comments printed plainly across their chests/breasts.

    * But – that one child who asks for a hug, shares one with me when he is now 6 inches taller than me, and remembers a comment from years ago – makes it all worthwhile!

    There’s something to be said about working in the “public” sector!

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  5. Loved your comments about my brother, your father. It brought back memories of how good a man he was. I loved him. I think about him and Jack very often.

    As to making me think about my “work” teaching 3rd graders. It was also a job that I loved. I’m hopeful that these kids benefitted by my teaching them things other than the 3 R’s

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  6. Your blog is almost always (most times anyway) very enjoyable. My years have taught me to leave no footprints and cause no pain. I’ve gotten better at both endeavors–I think. As to what I do? I excel at doing little to nothing.

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  7. There is so much emphasis on: is my work meaningful?, in the culture now……i really get bent out of shape over this. perhaps this is just another excuse for being self centered. what am i doing right now and how am i doing it?

    how important is meaningful? i dont know

    thanks

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