The heat waves of the hot summer sun placed a warm blanket on my back. Small drips of sweat started crawling down my face. But I continued to work. The slow jive of Bob Marley in the background kept my head bobbing in a smooth rhythm.
I took my knife and made another chip and another curve. My craft was taking shape. I now sanded and stained the wood – I imagined my books fitting comfortably on it. As I connected my last piece into place, I stepped back and took in my work. I was satisfied. It wasn’t perfect – in fact, it had a little slant to it – but that slant made it unique, beautiful in my eyes.
I looked down at my hands and saw cuts and calluses from a month of work; each day my body worked its healing miracles. I had just built a rustic bookshelf – the wood was all found and gathered in the back woods of my house. My labor worked with the labor of nature. It was a long month of pain, frustration and anger, but the process of the work made the end result worthwhile and full of pride.
As week 12 begins, the bookshelves of Kent State students are three-quarters finished. Students have their endless books stacked up in the corners of their rooms, ready to be studied or interpreted for an exam or the 10-page paper that was put off until now. Students have their assignment sheets and class syllabi lying next to their computers, reminding them of the coming exams and essays.
Students have their graded exams and papers from earlier in the semester, hidden deep in their folders and notebooks. Some grades forgotten, some proudly remembered. The good grades are the calluses, the fruits of hard work and study. The bad grades are the cuts, the frustration and the anger over the failure of the students or the failures of the professors.
The part-time and full-time jobs that students balance with their full schedules of classes add more frustration and stress. “When is winter break, already?” the student ponders. The delirious laughter is heard in the back halls of the Hub or the back kitchen of Taco Tontos as student employees try to stay awake after a long night of drinks or study or both. But the student keeps on working, keeps on paying the bills and keeps on studying. It’s not easy.
Many hours of study and work have been put in and much more is still ahead. The last chips and curves of the bookshelves of each Kent State student are being worked. The sanding and the staining are next. But as students, we keep on bobbing our heads, going with the rhythm of work and the music of life.
University is hard work, but when we make it through this semester, especially those that are graduating, we will be able to look back at our work, with its perfections and imperfections and be proud. We will be able to look at graded essays and exams, graded projects and graded artwork and be proud. We may even look back at our work at our part-time jobs – the sandwich artist at Franklin’s, the Kent State banquet server and the energy-provider at Einstein’s Bagels – and find a sense of pride in that work.
During a time in the U.S. when unemployment rates are skyrocketing, study, work and labor provide meaning and growth in life. Appreciate this. Appreciate the fact that when you wake up in the morning, you have something to look forward to and something to challenge you. Immerse yourself in this. Immerse yourself in the last weeks of the semester. And when it’s all said and done, step back – take a look at your bookshelf from an objective point of view and be proud. The curves, the slants and the colors are yours. The labor is yours, and no one can take that away from you. This, then, is the true grace of work.
David Busch is a junior history and psychology major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]