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By These Hands

The gobs of wet leaves and pine straw pulled with bare hands from the gutter weren’t posted on YouTube for the world to see. Nor were the pulled fence posts as they were chipped free of old concrete footings. The world will never wonder at the labor put into such things by these hands. My labor remains undocumented.

The same fingers that write these jumbles of words once laid brick on a curving walkway only to pull it up two decades later to reset a stubborn gate heaved by frost and refusing to close. This is the price of time in one place, you find yourself undoing what you’ve done before over and over again. It’s the labor of living, and like generations before mine the work goes largely unnoticed by most. Like an Offensive Lineman, you understand that if your work is noticed it wasn’t done correctly. But you know when it’s done well and when it isn’t.

Labor is done for profit, and it reveals itself in moments. Each time I open the gate without having to kick the bottom corner, I’ll celebrate the sweat and strain of a Sunday in August when the work was done. Each time it rains I’ll celebrate the sound of water running through the downspout and not up and over the top of the gutter. These observations aren’t celebrated in the same way as seeing the Grand Canyon or St. Basil’s Cathedral or the Tower of London for the first time, because they’re mundane. But when you’ve fixed something that needed fixing and see it work, none of those other places matter a lick in that particular moment.

I know plenty of people who hire others to do their labor for them. I understand this particular inclination, for paying others buys you time for yourself. Time spent on yard work is time not spent on a mountain summit or a beach on these briefest of days we call summer. But I know deep down that the work done by these hands reveals something in myself that I’d never find if I left the work to others.

There are lessons in the labor, residing deep inside of me, that others may not see. Lessons that open up for you like a swinging gate free of obstruction. Flow through you like water through a downspout. When you do the work, even when it might all be undone once again someday, you understand that our brief, fleeting lives only have meaning in these mundane contributions we make. Even if it’s never seen on YouTube.

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