The Dignity Of Labor Through A Son’s Eyes

As I mowed my lawn in the ninety degree heat Saturday I watched the lawn service trucks moving through my neighborhood. With sweat getting in my eyes I fantasized about the luxury of allowing a crew to do my work. There are three reasons I dismissed the notion. First, I actually like mowing my lawn. Second, I was raised to do the work in capable of doing and finally I find great comfort in the reminder that I come from working class roots.
I do love to mow. The combination of the smell of fresh cut grass, the sun shining on my shoulders and the instant gratification of seeing my lawn transform with each pass is, in its own way, intoxicating. There is an almost spiritual element IMG_0152associated with tending God’s green earth, the proverbial hands in the earth thing. I grew up in Iowa and there is a great respect for farmers born in the gratitude of their hard work and bountiful harvests. In some small way the attention I show my landscaping brings me closer to my agrarian heritage.
My parents were raised feeling the economic hardships of the depression. They never stated as such but I sense they thought it foolish to pay someone else to do what one was capable of doing themselves. There’s nothing wrong with providing opportunities for others as a means to defer tasks one might not enjoy. My opinion is that a man’s character can in part be measured by his willingness to do what needs to be done. As much as I love to mow; would I prefer to be out on my Harley or purusing the local farmers market? Yes. Yet somehow those activities are a little sweeter after I’ve completed my chores. A side benefit is that mowing my lawn racks up over 7,000 of the standard 10,000 steps fitness standard.
The final reason I may never pay anyone to mow my lawn comes from respect for my father. My dad was the CEO of IMG_0153Clayton’s DX, a two bay neighborhood gas station where my grandpa and I, after my older brother, served as his only employees once I was old enough and outside of school hours. Anyone who has spent time around an auto shop knows there are few professions more physically challenging. It’s heavy dirty work that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. My dad did that ten hours a day, six days a week and then would come home, do his books and attend anything and everything that was required to maintain our home. He never complained. He never required down time or alone time. For him, life’s value was found in being with those he loved and attending to their wants and needs.
I think in my dad’s best year he cleared $18,000 and yet somehow I don’t recall ever wanting for anything. I have the luxury of a job I love and the freedom from any real money concerns. I think my dad never questioned his state in life AD02B0D8-179D-4900-97D7-A0A53AC9003Bbecause he was driven by duty and found honor in providing a safe, joyful and loving home. I think of him often when I mow. I remember the silly straw hat with the red bandana he wore when he worked in the yard. I still have that hat. I don’t wear it because if I breath deeply enough I imagine I can still smell the sweet aroma of his hard work.

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Little Lessons.

After a seemingly long work week I stopped by my favorite store. I won’t say which store but if you were to guess I can tell you it would be as simple as ABC. (wink) As I entered the parking lot an elderly lady, using a walker, fell down as she was stepping off the curb. The car in front of me was loaded with kids who looked horrified but didn’t really know what to do. The oncoming car, also loaded with teenagers chose to point and burst into laughter while yelling comments out the window I’m glad I couldn’t discern exactly what they were saying… And there we sat. From one car back and partially blocking the intersection I put on my emergency flashers and jumped out to give a hand.
By the time I got to her it was obvious she had resigned herself to sitting there, on the curb, contemplating what she might do. She was the sweetest of ladies who was obviously a little shaken up by her predicament. I told her I was there to help and asked the best way to do that. With the confidence of someone who has been there before she instructed, “Place your feet in front of mine and help me up, thank you.” I did as instructed and was amazed at how little effort my assistance required. She smiled and said, “OK now, where the hell did the ABC store go?” That took all of the tension out of the moment and I told her she was in luck. I proceeded to escort her to her destination and then went to retrieve my car. By the time I got in the store she was at IMG_0117the counter with a half gallon bottle of 15 year old Glenlivet. I bantered that “Bourbon is better for you.” and she spun on her heel and scolded me like she’d never seen me before and exclaimed, “I don’t like bourbon I like scotch.” I couldn’t argue with that.
As I made my exit I noticed the car of mocking teenagers was pulling out of the neighboring Wendy’s drive through. It just so happened that they had to wait for me to cross the street before they could be on their way. I took the opportunity to suggest that, in the future, if they witness an old lady falling down they might choose to offer assistance rather than be cruel. Their previous frivolity suddenly seemed abated and one of them offered, “Yes sir.” That was good enough for me. I asked them to have a good weekend and went about my way. I had wished that those kids would have instinctively known what to do. I’m sure, had it been their grandmother, they would have reacted differently. Then I thought back to the dumb things I had done as a kid and was reminded that maybe kids haven’t changed all that much and hope that a lesson was learned.
When I got home, I poured my sip of bourbon, sat down on the back porch and offered a toast to little old ladies and rambunctious kids everywhere. It takes all kinds of people to make this world go round.

My Problem With Christians.

I used to begin every day praying that God would help me be the kind of man He wanted me to be. I prayed that people might see something different in me which that perhaps might cause them to contemplate their own relationship with God. I didn’t want to have to be the one to talk about it, mind you. I merely hoped to be some sort of subliminal messenger. And that seemed to work well for me for quite a few years. I used that prayer to hold myself accountable many times.
It’s not working anymore.
I don’t mean that I’ve quit talking with God or that I don’t hold IMG_0073myself accountable. I’m just not sure I’m interested in being a recruiter for Christianity anymore. There’s the age old “horrible things man does in the name of religion” thing but that never bothered me so much. At least not so much in that I couldn’t deflect the notion with evidence of the evolvement of man and civilization. It’s just that the current co-branding of Christianity and the conservative right have caused me to not really like Christians anymore. They aren’t nice and that’s a problem. Oh sure they’re great if you venture into their arena on their terms but let’s be honest. If you are gay, atheist, Muslim, even black or Hispanic the message of inclusion isn’t exactly the first thing you’d notice.
I’m not condemning Christians as having lost their way. Maybe it’s me. My embrace of progressive values has earned me numerous back channel messages quoting scriptures and imploring me to repent. They like that old “iron sharpens iron” quote but can’t seem to consider the Beatitudes. Christianity has a big problem right now. As long as they focus on building walls, denying sanctuary, feeling persecuted for baking gay wedding cakes and denying health-care to people who can’t afford it they can’t be my people. And I guess people never really had anything to do with my original prayer anyway. Dear God, help me to be the kind of man that You want me to be. I’ll leave the rest up to You.

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