When I was in high school, I wanted so much to think big thoughts and make an impact on the world. I yearned for some significance and intellectualism.
I grew up in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My backyard overlooked acres of farmland, and I spent my summers picking zucchini and corn in the mornings, and tomatoes in the afternoons. Here’s a picture of the Bebout Farms.
When I first started as a middle schooler, I was slow. Painfully slow. And I wasn’t that good. I was the slowest in my row and I often missed veggies. I missed so many that someone had to check my row after I was finished. It was embarrassing, and I’m sure I wasn’t worth my wage.
I’m not even sure if my parents paid Tom Bebout, the farmer, my wage. I’ll ask them when they come to visit in August.
But each year I went back. For four years, I picked veggies and by the end I got pretty good. I got good enough that I wasn’t the slowest and I didn’t miss too many zucchini.
I got two major benefits from hard, manual work:
- When I went back to school in the fall, I thought that school was so easy. Moving things with the mind isn’t half as difficult as laboring a whole day in a field during a sweltering Pennsylvanian summer.
- I knew I was capable of working hard.
What I see in most high school students today is a lack of understanding about what work is. Contemporary society has placed such a premium on students who do intellectual, academic work yet challenges students to stay focused in an environment where they are provided even more technology to distract them.
Manual, physical labor is almost like a meditation – a retreat from the incessant technology barrage. Farm jobs may be scarce now. But hard, physical labor is never more than a few yards away.