At this time of year many of us are transitioning from vacation back to work. It has me thinking about the meaning of labor.
This twin hull boat model was made from a lobster buoy, slabs of granite for the keel, and another Styrofoam buoy pushed through sticks for the sails.

Idiomatic expressions of labor include: labor of love, being in labor, laboring for something, fruits of one’s labor, to labor over someone or something – and then, there’s Labor Day!

By the time you read this Labor Day will have passed. I will have finished my watermelon, closed the door on my summerhouse, and inhaled one last salty and muddy scent of ocean and pond as I head down the path to my car.

Today, machines and robots, all of which use fossil fuels, have replaced much of our hand labor. We have increased consumption while largely losing the connection between our hands and the results of labor. It was once a common site to see someone weave a blanket, forge a metal hook, or position large chunks of stone into a wall in support of a road.



Photo Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation









Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation via Ken Schwarz

I think this is why we see a resurgence of interest in do-it-yourself, local food and organic farming, crafts and other handwork. We need to engage our bodies to balance our brains and hearts. Handwork grounds us.

A book I love on this subject is: The Case For Working With Your Hands: Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixings Things Feels Good, by Matthew Crawford (Viking).

As we return to our jobs and our daily routines, let us not forget to balance the labor that supports us financially with labor that nourishes our body, heart and soul.


What do you do with your hands to bring balance into your life?





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14 Responses to Labor

  1. john lyden says:

    as an orthopedic surgeon I am a human carpenter. I skipped engineering to do skeletal reconstruction which I find so uplifting and satisfying. Being able to rebuild a persons body and hence life is extremely gratifying. Enjoying ones work is a great gift from all ones mentors along the way

  2. eileenrockefeller says:

    You are lucky, John, to have found a career that so well matches your skills and personality. And it’s true, that if we have mentors to thank along the way, we probably come closer to reaching our potential before we close our eyes for the final time. Thanks for sharing. Eileen

  3. Sometimes I find old or broken computers on the street, I fix them and install in them free operating systems like ‘Ubuntu”, then I donate them to the needy. Bringing something to life, even electronically, and seeing the joy in the faces of the immigrant people I have donated them, makes me feel useful and productive. I also like fixing my patio’s fence without calling the landlord, since I rent this property, and that is uplifting too. If all goes well, I will start a continuing education class tomorrow, at a local college in town, it will be an introductory class to prepare me for reading, understanding and writing in an academic level. For me it will be a labor of love to myself and others to be able to write well, hopefully after this class, so I can be understood and understand others better, I have postponed this for along time and now hopefully, with G’d’s help, I will be able to get onto this new and dear project, as I have always dreamed of. I am so excited!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Manny, I so appreciate your altruism. You are a great example of how we can take our deepest wounds and turn them into our greatest strengths. Blessings to you on your work in computers and in writing.

  4. Peggy Hart says:

    I never feel like I’m laboring when I weave on that loom- it’s such a beautiful artifact of long ago. Thanks for including it in your blog.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I think if we’re lucky, our work simply feels like our life because it’s aligned with who we really are. Thanks for sharing the picture of your loom!

  5. Ellicott McConnell says:

    I recall and continue to admire your once reminding a superior that work should be expected from everyone, and never used for punishment.

    Mac McConnell

  6. eileenrockefeller says:

    Thanks Mac. I think I know who that was. I appreciate being reminded of something I said when I was 20 years old!

  7. I do think the manner in which “the deaf” have learned to communicate with their hands represents one of the most gifted populations in the world. It is so special to see all of the translators to the deaf communicate in the same language. Language gives birth to learning… GIVE.

  8. eileenrockefeller says:

    It is a most amazing language. What a gift for those who are deaf.

  9. Georgianna says:

    Love the picture that you posted of Colonial Williamsburg. My husband and I spent a week in VA., this summer and visited Colonial Williamsburg. It was AMAZING, love all the history. We toured your grandparents home and heard about how influential they were in helping establish it.

    About working with my hands. I am trying to teach myself how to quilt a potholder, starting off small. I have knitted in the past. Love to plant things and garden in season.

    I always look forward to your blogs.

    Thank you.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Hi Georgianna. How nice you have visited Colonial Williamsburg. It must have been HOT then! I hope you got to the blacksmith shop. That’s always been a favorite of mine. And good for you to start small on your own handwork. Potholders are infinitely useful. We still have the ones our boys made us when they were in grade school! Of course theirs were the simple colored elastic material that you weave over a frame. Your quilted one will be much more work. Good luck!

  10. Eileen,
    Great to be able to read some of your interesting stories. I work for Green City Force for over 5 years. We train young urban males and females adults fighting climate change in NY’s tri-state area. These youngsters receive job like training while uplifting their neighborhood. We install solar panels, build green spaces, conduct energy audits on multi-family and small family structures. I wanted to share some photos with you of our 2nd annual Harvest Fest last Saturday in Red Hook Brooklyn but I was unable to do so with this format. We transformed a known drug den and recreated it into 1.5 acre farm inside the middle of the Red Hook housing development. The nation’s first full operational farm inside a public housing development. We built this farm over 3 years ago and we had to build it twice after Super Storm Sandy had hit. We picked this part of Red Hook because it was actually a food desert and the poor people of this neighborhood had no access to fresh and healthy food. We were so successful that now the city wants us to build 4 more farms in other public housing developments. All of the food grown on our farms are given away to the needy of these neighborhoods for free. We teach the people in these communities on how to make healthy dishes from the produce we grow. We teach them how to grow food properly and we strongly encourage composting. The youth we train go on to wonderful paid internships afterwards and their love for the earth really increases. I wanted to share these epic visions with you and I hope in the near future I can do so.

    Forever your friend fighting climate change,

    Lawrence D. Harris,
    Senior Team Leader,
    Green City Force

  11. eileenrockefeller says:

    Dear Lawrence, what inspiring work you are doing. Thank you for sharing it. It is a leg up on the traditional food banks or food shelves around the country because you are teaching youth to grow their own food, and are engaging them in sustainable energy systems. You are welcome to contact me at my contact, listed on my website, and share pictures.
    All the best,

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