It’s Labor Day and, strangely enough, one of my favorite holidays. Although, as a kid, it was the last day of summer vacation for us, this one day seemed all the sweeter. The pool taste of chlorine, the coconut reek of suntan lotion, the sun browning the already tan skin of back and thighs had to last for the rest of the year. Back then, I didn’t think of my PaPaw, Jethro Cross, and the sacrifices he made as a Labor Union man in Arkansas. He was a yellow dog democrat until the day he died, and he believed in hard work and the power of the workers united. Of course, I never knew these things about him when I was young. I just knew he worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill in Camden and that we needed to stay out of the house and be quiet when we were inside during the heat of the day.
I have a deep admiration for the working men and women of today. The kind of work, especially, that seems to be fading as technology takes over the workforce. But there are still farmers who grow plants with their hands, feed and water their livestock, “pick” the eggs from the nest boxes every morning, and milk their goats and cows. Nurses and aids are still turning patients who can’t move for themselves, changing sheets, bathing the sick and elderly. Men and women are working in garages, fixing your cars and motorcycles, bumping their knuckles and burning their hands. Bakers and chefs and moms are still cooking in kitchens where the food doesn’t come out of a microwave and the veggies must be chopped and the chicken cleaned and baked.
I have always loved work. Good work makes a person feel useful, healthy, productive. We feel like we are contributing to our world–whether that world is our immediate family or whether it is our communities or society as a whole– in a beneficial way. It’s a labor of love. Recently, Leigh went to visit her brother halfway across the country. His wife of only two years, his “ain true love” a woman for whom he labored tirelessly so they could go on motorcycle trips and adventures, was dying unexpectedly of a brain tumor. From the moment they knew, only a few months ago, she was given 2-4 months to live.
He immediately took a leave of absence, closing up his auto shop, in order to care for his ailing wife; in order to spend every moment he could with her. A big, strong man–a man’s man as they say–he lifts her, bathes her, feeds her–not even allowing the help who comes daily to do the job alone. He does not trust them to be gentle enough. This is a labor of love.
Leigh decided to go for a visit and to help with what will surely be her sister-in-law’s last birthday party. While she is there she cleans the house, does the laundry, entertains guests, and yes, even cooks for them (I am trying to figure out how to get her to do all this at home outside of dire circumstances) so that they can enjoy the few precious moments they have left together. This is a labor of love.
Back the the homestead house (still waiting for the closing of our next real home), I tend to the chores that are left for me to do, mostly take care of our motley crew of dogs, clean up the rental house, mow the lawn before the big rain. I make myself available for texts and phone calls from my beloved because I know how this sad ending to true romance at a young age will affect her, and that she will be strong for her brother. She sends me little pictures now and then and I try to see them through her eyes. I write and read poetry every day. I write for her because I know that while she is there, she can’t. I write her poems and songs. This too, is a labor of love.
As artists and writers, our labors are often under appreciated. The general public, in large part, thinks we are simply playing, like children with finger paints and crayons. They don’t see the education, the dedication, the commitment to continue our study and our work at the desk, sitting in front of an easel or at a potter’s wheel, always with a pad of paper, a pen, a paintbrush, a pencil, a piece of clay, an open book that is not National Enquirer (although it might be occasionally) which is the history of our labor. Our work must be a labor of love. We must do it because we love it. There can be no other reason that trumps this one; not a desire for success nor to impress our friends or family (this simply will not work, okay?) and not because there will be rewards in heaven.
We must, like Leigh’s brother with his wife, treat our work tenderly and open our hearts to life and the love of life and whatever art work we have taken on, and do what comes naturally to us–create. We must do this work even when it breaks our hearts. That is a labor of love.
—Mendy Knott is a writer, poet and author of the poetry collection A Little Lazarus (Half Acre Press, 2010). You can order books, make a comment or subscribe to blog posts by email at her website www.hillpoet.com.