Next door, construction workers are adding an addition to our neighbor's house. It's been a summer of concrete, two-by-fours, and nail guns. Most recently, the roofing crew arrived. In the heat of July, they appeared last night at 5 p.m. and worked until 9. This morning, they were already on the roof at 7 a.m. My husband and I are fortunate to have a tiny, mother-in-law cottage behind our house, which serves as my husband's office and man-cave. We make frequent trips across the small backyard during the day, visiting each other with questions or observations or to take care of the mundane minutia of bills to be paid and household chores. Just now, as I crossed back, the 3 men on the roof next door were in a huddle discussing some aspect of the job apparently. They are all Latino and converse entirely in Spanish. As I looked up at them (for how could I not?), their conversation ceased and they simply stared at me as I made my way back into the house.
This little interaction made me wonder: what must they think of us? After all, we are too young to be retired, yet we don't go to work like most of our neighbors. Do they think me spoiled to be able to leisurely wander about the backyard? Both my husband and I are teachers, and both of us use our summer days to first recuperate from the school year and then to pursue our intellectual interests. When, I watch these men, who are clearly experts at what they do, sweating in the heat radiating up off the tar paper and shingles, a momentary guilt wafts through me.
My brother-in-law is a master automotive electrician. He also rebuilds cars that have been totaled and resells them. His work is dirty and physically taxing, involving long hours crawling underneath and around and inside cars. He give me no end of grief for my teaching schedule. Likewise, when people find out both my husband and I teach, their first comment invariably falls in the realm of "oh wow, you get summers off!" Forgive us if we get a bit defensive, but we aren't sitting around eating bon-bons and watching soap operas. Yet, how to convince especially those people working blue collar jobs that there is worth in philosophy and poetry?
A poem seems a bit paltry in the face of working 12 hour days trying to feed and house a family. As I contemplate the lives of the men next door, I feel a certain pressure to make these long days of summer count, to not waste my time, and to be grateful for those leisure moments.