Work is not a curse, but drudgery is.
— Henry Ward Beecher
The hard, tedious, menial, monotonous work of the rat race – drudgery. Work done by someone in an unimaginative way.
Just yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to someone talk about their work. They described a circular ritual of seeing the need for tasks to be completed, working on those tasks, completing them, reporting them, seeing the need for them to be re-done, working on them, and so on. The circular quality of the work seemed numbing, a rat race. The deceitfulness of Sisyphus was thus punished. In the end, I could not tell if the work itself was drudgery because my acquaintance lacked perspective or if it was indeed tedious and menial labor.
This week as I write about work and, more specifically, my work, I am struck by the privilege afforded me in the class system of the US. Even when I am exhausted by the back-to-back meetings, cross-town training sessions, webinars, furniture moving, account keeping, reporting, laundry, greeting, and so forth, even then I can see the point of my work. Even when I don’t see progress, I see purpose. When I don’t see a way, I see partners at my side.
I have a growing sense that my circumstance is less widely shared than I’d like to believe.
Late yesterday afternoon, as I rushed to give a lecture, I saw from my car a man whose left arm was in a sling and right hand was clutching a cane. His right leg was twisted in way that suggested that something recent or long ago damaged his hip, complicating his free movement. He was very visible on the street because he was walking in traffic, despite his best effort to stay near the cars parked at the curb. Built up snow banks and vast pools of slushy water — unable to drain into clogged, frozen sewers – made the sidewalk inaccessible to him. Three school children ran along the ridge of the snow banks to ask if they could help. He shooed them away. Another pedestrian, this one a middle-aged woman, was not as easily deterred. When he told her “No!” she walked a few yards ahead to show the approaching cars that a precious human was on his way. I watched all of this from the vantage point of my car, where I had pulled out of traffic to see if he was safe, if I could also lend a hand.
Last night or this morning, will this man find the time and perspective to reflect on his work?