Two weeks ago, I was in a terrible mood. I hate to admit how bad it was. Husband was snapped at for no reason. Tears were shed over a broken door knob. Certain four letter words were uttered within earshot of the toddler—which completely wiped out all the progress I’d made this summer about not swearing. In response to my antics, the Dachshund raised his head off the couch and gave me the look. Directly translated from the German, it means “the human has gone completely nuts, but I’m still too lazy to get up.” You know you’re behaving badly when a wiener dog chastises you.
And, of course, it was all because I didn’t want to go back to school.
It’s not like I don’t love my job. I do. But the semester means constant, frenzied work: 12 hour days and 50 hour weeks of it, on too little sleep. I found myself dreading all that work.
Perhaps you also felt that way as the semester approached. With all the excitement of seeing your friends and of taking new classes, maybe you’d found yourself dreading the work — the papers and the problem sets, the lab reports and the relentless deadlines. And if not, perhaps you did feel that way once you looked through those freshly minted syllabi.
In an essay for NPR, Lieutenant General Russel Honoré talks about how hard he worked as a child on his family’s farm. One day when he complained, his father told him, “’Ya know, boy, to work is a blessing’.”
For some reason, those words came back to me last week. “To work is a blessing,” uttered by someone who spent a lifetime working a lot harder than I ever have, for less money.
So for the past week, I’ve been trying to see work as a blessing. It’s been hard.
Of course, you and I really are blessed to get to do the work we do here: discussing great ideas, having the sum of human knowledge fed to us like so many bonbons, etc. I’m blessed to be earning a living; you’re blessed to be learning how to live. I get that.
But Honoré’s dad wasn’t talking just about enjoyable work; he was talking about any work, including work that is brutal and unrewarding. Work, in and of itself, is a blessing. That’s what I can’t wrap my mind around. After all, wasn’t work God’s punishment of Adam?
This is the closest I’ve come so far: When I work, I’m putting energy back into the universe instead of just consuming it. When I work, I know I’ve earned my existential keep — the breath and sun and love that sustain me. Plus it feels good when it’s over. Maybe that’s enough of a blessing to see me through.
To work is a blessing. If that’s true, whether you work calculus problems or annotate a text, you are blessed. At least let’s try to think that way around midterm, when we’re all overworkedblessed.
Kelly Carlisle, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the department of English.