Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Snappy Discussion

"The sum of wisdom is that time is never lost that is devoted to work."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just the other morning Spouse and I went for an excruciating expedition into the freezing air in order to partake of a workout. We have been unable to attend for three months now on account of various mishaps and sicknesses and finally we are attempting to regain some sort of a routine. We talked as we drove, chatting with the ever-present hope that conversation would warm us sufficiently to maintain consciousness. In truth the air was so cold that I almost looked forward to the muscle cramps and the pain of the treadmill. Anything, my body screamed, anything but this ice air, this breathless excursion!
The talk turned to future plans and what we want from our lives, as it does, I am sure, for most people driving along just after dawn in the frigid throes of Winter.
Spouse declared a lack of feeling accomplished, a sensibility sorely missing and much needed. Spouse endeavoured to tell me that, after all the years of thinking otherwise, being an engineer was perhaps not much different from, say, working in a restaurant.
Teeth clacking and chattering, I heartily disagreed. I insisted with a surge of venom that being an engineer was absolutely different: not better or worse but certainly not the same as being a worker at a fast-food restaurant.
Spouse dismissed my thought and argued that in the end, it was all the same: working hard, day in and day out and getting one's work done and going home only to sleep and rise again to work another day. How was that at all different?
I mused for a moment and then suggested that the type of work he did involved processes that changed the world, albeit imperceptibly at times. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and such people undertook to build, teach or help in ways that moved our society forward and shifted the advancement of the world ever so slightly. Feeding people, for example, is an urgent business and I do not dismiss it- I worked for years in restaurants, stores and at checkouts and testify to the necessity of such work- but eating, cooking, serving at a supermarket does not leave such a dent as assembling technology that probes space, uncovering a cure for a disease or solving the greater troubles on our planet by education and dedication.
I had triumphed in the verbal battle. Spouse admitted that I was right, in such a tone as to indicate that I had won the day. My aim had been twofold: perhaps less crucially I delivered my speech in order to stay warm; I had, most importantly, wanted to bring solace to my Spouse and prove to him that he was possessor of a meaningful and worthwhile career.
I rarely, particularly in reasoning with my Spouse, hear that I am right. I savoured it. Then, to my own astonishment, I handed it back meekly. On second thought, I was not right at all, I said. There were people working in cafeterias and restaurants and supermarkets who served and assisted the engineers and doctors and lawyers and teachers and so forth. Their ability to change the world might be less transparent but it could not be denied.
We both won, in a manner of speaking and my Spouse went to work that morning feeling a good deal better about making a positive impact.

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