06 August, 2009

To the Worker!

UPDATE: A perfect fit with this post and my reply to BillT in comments... When you've grown up around people like Kevin and his neighbors and coworkers, this sort of thing doesn't surprise you at all.

I LOVE this!

The group sends boys and girls to camps where they can learn to weld or run a lathe. It provides training and scholarships to vocational schools, and aims to "dispel the myth that a career in manufacturing is a dirty, low-paying job and dominated by men."

"The industrial arts have always taken precedence over the fine arts," Ratzenberger pontificated, sounding much like his bar-side character from Cheers.

"Remember, someone had to build the ceiling before Michelangelo could go to work," he said. "And even the most educated and skilled brain surgeon can't save a life if a plumber hasn't done his job so that clean, hot water flows through the pipes in the operating room where the surgical teams wash their hands."

My job is manual labor only to the extent that my fingers are required to be in near-constant contact with the computer keyboard, and I have to hold the phone to my head when I can't find find the headset. My mother worked in office jobs before getting married, and my father's job as a minister was all about touching books and pens and holding the hands of the ill or suffering as he prayed with them.

But my father gave me a tremendous gift, a deep and abiding respect for those who truly work with their hands.

I have about a year and a half of solid memories from his time in seminary (I was five when we left), but my formative years were spent in rural communities as my father ministered to farmers, bricklayers, mechanics and others possessed of calloused hands and rock-hard grips. His friendliness and naturally inquisitive nature flattered these hard-working men, who were only too willing to explain their trades and even teach or assist my father as he remodeled the old farmhouse we'd bought.

I watched as our house was stripped down to the bare two-by-fours and built back up again, with wiring carefully planned and executed according to code, wallboard applied with edges painstakingly seamed, fireplaces built with artistic skill, and pipes cut and sealed to bring life-giving fresh water at a gentle finger's touch. At each stage, church members and blue-collar neighbors my father had befriended coached and even pitched in to ensure our home would be sturdy, safe and comfortable. I watched as my highly-educated father gratefully took instruction from those who had only graduated from high school, and expressed his appreciation for their work in his wide-eyed way of reveling at the amazing diversity and breadth of the human mind. I was taught by example the lesson that a tremendous depth of skill and experience is required to turn brick, wood, shingles, wallboard, carpet, paint and fixtures into something that will one day become a comfortable home.

Hanging out with friends and kids from church, I saw their fathers come home dirty and sweaty and smelly... and I admired them for it because I knew it meant they had been working hard to make something tangible, something with lasting impact--whether they'd been tilling a field, carrying around heavy bricks, framing a house, or fixing a broken car... because it doesn't matter how educated or even brilliant you are if you have no place to live, no food to buy, or no way to get to your high-paying desk job 30 miles away.

In other words, kudos to John Ratzenberger!

[h/t to Mr. Wolf, via email]