Today’s MOZEN: Working Man’s Hands

When I was a young boy of about 10 or 11, I remember watching a movie that had a great impact on me. I don’t recall the name of the film or who the players were. However, I can clearly recollect the plot:

There had been a mining collapse and there was a desperate race against time to rescue the miners. So a call was sent out to the surrounding area for all men to report to the mine to begin the long, dangerous process of digging the survivors out — by hand.

The men were asked to line up to be questioned by the foreman of the operation so that he might judge their fitness for the arduous task ahead. As the men lined up, the foreman warned them of the difficulties and said that because of the physical nature of the work, no one who didn’t use there hands (i.e. businessmen) for a living should not waste their own or his time with getting in line.

He then preceded to ask each man as they came forward to show him the palms of their hands. If he did not see callouses on them, proving their ability to do hard labor, they were turned away.

Man after man came forward to be inspected. While inspecting one man’s hands, the foreman looked up and into the man’s face. He began to angrily chastise the man saying; “I thought I said no businessmen!” As the foreman’s gaze met the other man’s he realized that the man in question was a priest. He softened his tone and uttered: “I’m sorry, father, but you wouldn’t last more than 5 minutes down there.” The priest smiled innocently and quietly turned away.

That one scene left such an impression of me than and still does today, over 50 years later.

Here’s what I took from it: each person has something to contribute in their own way and, at times, that service can be invaluable. In this case, the spirit of simple, working men were so honored. Their daily labors, so largely unnoticed in real time, contribute so much to not only the lives of their families, but to the world as a whole. They build our roads, bridges, and tunnels. They dig the ditches to make repairs to our water pipes. They take away our garbage. They clean our streets when it snows. They mine the earth to provide us with the materials we need to exist. They farm the land to grow the food we eat. Simply put, without the efforts of the common working man (and woman) our society would collapse.

So, from that day on I allows wanted to associate myself with the so-called Working Man. Even though I went on to an advanced education, teach at a major Northeast University, and have held many management positions commensurate with that education and experience, I have always felt that I had more in common with them then the more educated elite.

My father, a working man himself, always wanted me to have a life better than his so he encouraged me (insisted, really) that I educate myself to the fullest so that I would use my head instead of my hands.

And, so I did.

However, I never forgot that movie and the impact it had on me. So, as a young man, for every summer without school in session, I made sure that I took jobs that were very physical like construction laborer or truck driver.

And, I never regretted it.

To this day, I still do as much physical labor around my place as I can. For example, I do all of my own gardening, including tilling the soil every Spring and preparing it for Winter. When I owned my own place I did most of the landscaping (almost 2 acres) myself. I still shovel the snow for myself and my nearest neighbors. I try to make basic repairs to my apartment. And, even though I can afford to do otherwise, I even clean my own place. I see it as good for the soul.

My gnarly, callused hands, ones that I am still particularly proud of, remain a testament to my love and respect for Working People.

But, there is room for all kinds of hands; those with long fingers, perfect for playing the piano. Or soft ones, good for gently caressing an ailing friend. And, yes, those that show the marks of good, honest, hard work.

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