Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 1, the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker (as Fr. James Martin, SJ, reminds us.)   "Never forget that Joseph worked.  That Mary worked.  That Jesus worked," he writes.  It is also International Workers Day.

And the word on my mind, in the back of it, is, "a shift."  Physicists make a shift seeing the world we live in in their Quantum theorizing, particle physics, etc.  And we grant them their professions and their work and the validity of it, of course.   The shift.  It's not the world as we see it before us, tangible, but in their higher math, they have it figured out.  They have shifted how we see, and they are better at making this shift than we are.

We lead out our economic lives in certain ways.  Some would use terms like Patriarchal, or Corporate, or just simply plain practical.  Face it, the U.S.A. is a place where it is helpful to be good at self-promotion.

But still, there are workers, doing actual work, and many of them with their hands, with their bodies, as I do, people like chefs and bartenders, doctors and nurses, pharmacists, sanitation workers, construction, paving, steel, and, of course, carpenters, and on and on.  Even writing, I suppose.  And teaching, too.

The dignity of labor is a subject for the Mass today on EWTN, Father Mitch Pacwa, who grew up in Chicago, no stranger to factory labor unions and his father's mechanical shop.

And how would I make a thoughtful and intellectual shift of my work experience...

We do not dismiss people on the basis of a person being a "laborer," beneath us.  That would be a thing of the old pagan mentality, of patrician/philosopher class versus "laborer."  People are always willing to update that, the old pagan mentality, to sell things based on paganism, jewelry, torques, spears, etc., but that is paganism.  There must be some political relief in providing for an equanimity, an equality, for the acknowledgment of all people working together to make the daily bread, no CEO making ten thousand times what the guys on the line make...

To have great respect for that labor, that's a Christian development.  Paul made tents to make a living.  Joseph... of course.  Paul supports himself.   Thus he can evangelize without asking for anything.

And at work, you can in effect advance the love that comes through the Gospels.

The Marxists, the Communists, they were of the opinion that the help the worker out society had to embrace atheism.  And ultimately, the nature of their philosophy became so abstract that in order to help the worker it was sometimes necessary to murder them en masse.

Work is drudgery sometimes...  Work is difficult.  Work is disheartening at times.  Work can seem to not offer us enough in return...



She is a singer.  We have an old CD of hers.  She comes in late, explaining that she was inspired from seeing John Pizerelli playing at Blues Alley and a bass player friend of hers calling looking for gigs just then, that she was inspired to drop in, as the Hot Club of DC plays on, gypsy swing.  It's almost nine and the young server kid comes up to tell me the kitchen's closing at 9, early, and this is sooner than I'd like, given the traffic that has just come in.  She doesn't make much at all giving music lessons she tells us, me and the former diplomat gentleman, a good friend of mine and a writer in his retirement.   She's on Medicare for health insurance, and she's concerned about getting bronchitis, and in the long term she's legitimately worried about becoming homeless.  And I'm busy enough, irritated enough by my help good at show and token, that I don't want to hear it.  But I've got a couple of sample of wine that aren't going anywhere, and I get through suggesting what she might order, economically, by gritting my teeth against distractions.  My blood sugar has just sunk low, a pang in my stomach, and people are irritating me....

A married couple comes up the stairs, and it is their pattern to arrive late.  "Kitchen's closing in a few minutes," the server tells them, and the seat.  "Oh, I saw the look on his face..."  And to tell you the truth my own face registered a little bit of 'oh shit' at the tail end of a slow night as the music begins to unnerve my calm.  Take your time, I tell the couple.  They were headed to a baseball game, but their nine month old is teething...  I pour the a couple of tastes after telling them the the night's specials.

The server is back in the corner quietly and peacefully enjoying a cup of yogurt, unconcerned.  And not long later he takes his backpack and departs, and I'm too busy to catch if he stopped to say goodnight, but I know he did not offer to see if I needed anything to restock.  Entree comes for the gentleman at the bar, and then, just as I'm clearing the appetizer plates, here comes the food running busser pushing their dinner plates on them, which always involves rearranging things on the small coffee tables, the bread plates, the silverware, the water glasses, the bread basket...

No job is without its disquieting moments, its disruption of the norm of calm and composure.

I get through it.  And when I get in, it's straight to the couch, and that's where I fall asleep, with the light on, the radio playing quiet classical music for the plants on the window sills behind the couch.  Not even a glass of wine.  Then, transferring myself to over to the bedroom.

I am trying to be a bit more productive during the daytime before the shift.  It can be awkward having to wait around, but you find things to do, dishes, old mom's to call, vacuuming.

But I am in need, in need of a shift in how I see things.  I cannot, at least immediately, change the things of where I am and what I do for a living.  I chose the life of labor, and it seemed to keep me busy enough, occupied, and maybe with a little bit of inspirations on the side, or, at least, a steady look at humanity as it is, when they have relaxed and opened up a bit, as you cannot catch people very well out on the street.  Why, how many times have I wondered in my mind, what am I doing.  What the hell am I doing...

Toward the end of enjoying her trout dinner, with spinach, potato puree and an almandine preparation, we at the bar are talking our heritage, much of which I miss as I make my back and forth from the bar out of the dining room and back, desserts to clear, busboy to dodge, checks to print, credit cards to run, the gentleman asks me, given my Polish last name, if I grew up Catholic.  Well, yes, but largely non-praciticng.  "My father was a Theosophist," I explain.  And the nice woman asks, "what's that."  So, I offer an explanation.  All the great religions speak of a deeper reality, a perennial wisdom, each expressing them in their own way.  The Hindus have it one way, the Buddhists, etc., but  there is a commonality.  You might even say that there's something of a pagan history to the Tree of Life that in Christianity will become The Cross...  A Theosophist might see a connection in between what the Buddha is telling us with what Christ is saying...


"I like listening to you talk," she says, after I clear her plates, grumbling around distractedly.  Thank you, I say, and then she needs a decaff espresso, and the night winds down, and then I'm alone.  Maybe for a brief time I eased her worried concerns, but I must get myself home.



Some of us, perhaps out of being Irish, think along matrilineal society's terms, perhaps placing one a bit of synch with modern society at large.  This is just our instinctive pattern, in our cells, in our DNA, I suppose.  That's just how things make sense to us.  And by the same, some of us are born with a respect for the dignity of work, of labors that some might find beneath them, beneath their intelligence and their sophistication and their own personal potential and abilities to save themselves.    Progress, the Koch Brothers, drilling the earth, the things of Patriarchal society, the conquest model of life... the diminishment of the working laborer seen as a material resource first, a human being second.  But, I suppose, the attitude is not so much a thing of my own possession.  As much as it may have cost me directly in my own life...

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