The True Living Wage

Looking down from the third floor window…

As the calendar year rolled into June, so began the long awaited restoration and expansion of our home. For years we’ve been planning, and after the shutdown delay, the foundations are being laid and a dream is becoming a reality. My part in the deal (along with my three youngest children, especially) has been demolition and moving wood chips, but we’ve also been constructing new paths and setting climbing logs near the swing-set/fort down by the creek. Lots of sweat, scrapes, cuts, dirt, and a general soreness at the end of the day, but it’s the joy of work that comes out in me and my children in these instances that reminds me of what it truly means to live.

For some, work is drudgery, a nine-to-five hell to endure for a short weekend that fails to fully satisfy. Many don’t love what they do because they were programmed to believe that it’s the salary that matters more than anything else (and you should do whatever it takes to climb to the top). Others, as my good friend and fellow writer, James, said last night live with “the specter of futility” constantly hovering over their shoulders, trying to hold two part-time jobs to just stay above the poverty level. It’s true: work isn’t always fun; I could tell you stories as a teacher, especially from this past semester, but work is a part of life with the potential for joy and meaning, and to suggest its removal for anything less is robbery.

Last night, what began as a poem in the vein of Kipling’s If, with the refrain “we demand the living wage,” transformed into a Shakespearean sonnet that, I believe, better addresses the reality of what James said, the overall fragility of life, and the joy to be found in engaging your work with your whole being.

The Living Wage – Vincent H. Anastasi

Beneath the specter of futility
whose shadow ever dims our living hope
and threatens to undo our industry
with ev’ry step upon this tilting globe,
we toil each day beyond the set of sun
aware of the fragility of life,
and though the work is often left undone,
the joy we reap cannot be quantified.
For in each block wall laid out plumb and true,
each tended field that thrives in soil and light,
for satisfaction in each ache and bruise
like medals earned in pressing through the fight,
in defiance of that phantom’s rage
we celebrate our labor’s living wage!

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