Relearning the Value of Physical Work

I was tired. Really tired! I might even have experienced heat exhaustion. Anyway, it was hot, ninety-five degrees to be exact, and I was exhausted. Moving dirt, laying sod and pushing a lawn roller filled with water is hard work even when it is not scorching.

But I feel fulfilled being tired from physical work. I like making a difference. In this case, I am making a difference in the way my lawn looks. Incidentally, I didn’t work very long in the ninety-five-degree heat.

I should explain. I had some waterproofing work done just a few days ago. Unfortunately, one of the basement windows that was worked on was underneath a small deck off our bedroom. So, with my son’s help, I tore that deck down and I am slowly burning it in my fire pit. I can do that because I don’t live within the Kenosha city limits. I also have an occasional wiener roast. Now, I am just rubbing it in.

Back to the project. I wanted to raise the elevation on two sides of my house. So, I had five cubic yards of dirt delivered. It might not sound like a lot to you, but we are talking about a dump truck load of topsoil. It was grueling moving it one wheel barrel load at a time to the far side of the house. Again, my son helped me. That took us one day and a fraction of another. The next day, I hauled and laid twenty-six rolls of sod from a local sod farm. That’s six hundred and fifty pounds of sod.

But the big project remains, building a ten by twenty-one-foot deck to replace the little deck we tore out. It will connect with a paver deck off the kitchen and I’m just getting started on that.

I am no experienced builder. I did build a large deck over twenty years ago, but I had an experienced person helping me. So, I am leaning heavily upon advice from the friendly folks at Menard’s and how-to YouTube videos. It should be interesting.

I marvel at how we as a culture have turned away from hard work, hiring it out to professionals, and often, to emigrants who willingly staff these types of positions that the rest of us seem to think we are too good for.

Many city dwellers seem to be willfully ignorant of how to maintain their property and are totally at the mercy of hired professionals. So, there is an obvious economic benefit to learning how to do a few things for ourselves.

However, there a value in doing physical work that is far more important than the economic benefits. It’s the satisfaction that comes from saying, “I did that. I built that. I repaired that myself.” When we look back at a completed project, we realize we did something that took us out of our comfort zone and caused us to learn a new skill. We ran into some obstacles, but overcame them. It’s not perfect, but it looks pretty darn good. We learned. We persevered. We finished. We created something.

Physical work is therapy. When you are working hard, you don’t think or worry about anything else. It washes out the mental preoccupations that haunt us.

One more thing. We live in a virtual reality. On Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter, we craft an image of ourselves that we want to present to the world. It’s an easy thing to get addicted to.

I know about shutting myself off from the physical world. I am a writer. It’s very solidary work. I know about feeling compelled to feed my blog and social media, (which I have not been doing lately).

We’ve all been in a restaurant and observed a young couple at a nearby table more mesmerized with their phones than each other. Our cute little pursuit can become a monster that consumes us and keeps us from experiencing reality and interacting with people face-to-face in the real world. But, if we are working with someone else, our work becomes a great bonding opportunity.  

I need to move away from the computer now, I have a lot of work to do.

This was my column in the Kenosha News back in June.

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