The Dignity of Dirt

Especially here in the northwest, one of the frequent problems people have with their houses is ground water flooding underneath their house.  A lot of the newer developments around here, especially, are built on pretty much marshland, which means there’s a lot of water in the ground, and that doesn’t actually go away just because someone sticks a foundation in it and builds a house on top of it.  So, after a couple years the homeowner inevitably discovers, Hey!  There’s  a bunch of water underneath my house!  Then they have to call some guy to come down there and dig a big hole in the mud underneath the house, stick a special pump (a sump pump, to be precise) inside the hole, dig some trenches around it, and get the water flowing into the hole, into the pump, and out of the house.

Today, that somebody was me.

Well, me and my girlfriend’s dad, who’s actually the guy these people call to do their dirty work.  So we left his house today in a van full of piping and power tools to spend the day in the mud underneath the house.  He asked me to help him out (his offer of a fat bonus check was a nice incentive) yesterday, and I said sure.  The weird thing is, I actually wanted to do it.  Why?

Because getting dirty is awesome.  Maybe this is my cultural bias talking, but I’m not sure there’s a better way to put hair on your chest then by spending a day digging holes in the mud.  Manual labor is good for the body and the soul.  I think many people look down on grunt labor, and maybe I used to as well, I don’t know–but dammit, there’s dignity in that kind of work.  People who work under houses all day should be proud of what they do.

My dad used to be a logger and he still takes down trees every once in a while for people.  So every couple months or so growing up, he’d haul the whole family out to somebody’s backyard and we’d pile up branches as he dropped them down from thirty, forty, fifty feet up the trunk.  I’m sort of an academic, the cerebral type, you know, and I never thought that I could get much out of those experiences, or that I could learn anything from them.  Now I know that I was wrong.  Learning to work hard applies to scholarship or business or law as much as it applies to digging holes in the mud.  Knowing when you deserve a break and when to keep digging is not as easy as it sounds.  Knowing the difference between tired, exhausted, and completely burnt-out isn’t easy either.  But it’s important to know, and it’s one of the keys, I think, to living well.

I will sleep good tonight.

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