14 mornings ago men arrived in my street. With their big trucks and heavy, metal drills. They camped out on all the surfaces in our little corner of the neighbourhood. It was so packed that we had to squeeze inbetween machines and bodies to get anywhere. It has been chaotic, disruptive and exciting.
On normal days Toward Street is quiet.
It sits atop underground swamps which release moisture when the ground is threatened. Long, long ago, when Australian land was barren, there was a river that went through this area or so the story goes.
Sometimes I leave my house at 12 o’clock in the afternoon and each step I take is treasured. I can feel my feet thinking with me as they meet the street beneath them. The silence always comes close. And mixed with the sunshine I always want to keep walking forever. There is this spirit to the street. A soul. And you feel it.
The street is wide and fat, stretching on all sides as if she is a lady who could eat more. And I would willingly indulge her. But 14 days ago, men came to break her belly and dig her insides. They are doing something to our water pipes. I have become used to having these men there, in their blue and yellow uniforms and white hard hats. I have grown attached to them and their work. And so I know the street will feel strange when they are gone, until that strangeness grows back into the usual quietness again and it no longer feels strange.
The work they do – the digging, drilling, shovelling, cutting and patching up dry ground, the fixing of water pipes and of finding a path for them under the earth; it is not work my mind or body knows intimately but its beauty I can see and its value I can appreciate. What would we do if there were no men or women who behind the scenes pieced things together so when we turned on the taps water actually gushed out in all its liquid glory, magnificent and abundant?
I stood in front of a panel yesterday. My job was to convince them that my dissertation was making a worthy contribution to the annals of human knowledge. As I stood there in a conventional room with conventional lighting and projectors, I knew I could not occupy academia the way I occupy my soul. This knowing was sharp and it pressed in the insides of my mouth forcing other words to come out. Words that I had prepared to speak in defense of my unconventional thesis. As soon as they left my mouth they proclaimed me doomed and free all at the same time. Free in ways I do not yet understand.
Unlike the men in my streets, the work I do is not as visible. I collect things and patch them up together, stringing meaning and heart to the things that beat with life. I live in nostalgia. I stand and observe. Take in and then give it all back. Sometimes in words and sometimes in a touch. It is a quiet work, the work that sits behind the visible.
And this is how precious work is. It begins before it begins. We each bring reasons, hopes, dreams and expectations to what we do for work. It is never a blank page, and it is never worthless.
Tonight as I walked home, my street was quiet in the dark. The sky above was flooded with stars, the kind that make you smile and wonder about all the other people who are seeing them at just the same time as you. I felt the cold air in my face and spread out my arms to embrace and be embraced by nothing and everything. The big machines that flanked all the edges of the street pressed me on all sides directing me home.
One day this work will end, I think to myself. And the men with all their big tools will leave and go dig up another part of the earth. I think of work and what it is meant to do in the world. But what I see instead is a toiling out of necessity that governs our lives. And how it holds us prisoner within the limitations the world sets on us. I feel for all of us.
Maybe it is time to reimagine a different relationship with work. A bubbling need to go back to the basics; to the appreciation; to the falling in love with the pieces of the puzzle we each hold. For work is the place we get to hold our piece and turn it around in the light to notice all the ways it is wonderfully formed. Work is the space we can stitch our piece to another’s piece to create something beautiful.
Maybe it is time to reimagine.