When Sir Winston Churchill gave his famous speech warning the Brits of the potential disaster to come from Hitler, he was quoted as saying ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We hear the term ‘blood, sweat and tears’ and know immediately the reference to hard work and effort during difficult circumstances. One has exhausted themselves to the brink. It is very fitting to the military because they are in a constant state of fight or flight with their bodies and sensory alertness with their minds.
I am especially grateful to not know the true definition of hard work. I know ‘working hard’. I know hustling and being busy with accomplishing a task or achieving a goal. And yes, I know physical labor and body fatigue. I frequently stand 8 hours a stretch in the kitchen and know the exhaustion of a line-cook. I have moved heavy furniture numerous times. I have weeded and mulched a rose bed, pruned and tilled an organic garden, scrubbed toilets at a bed and breakfast, physically exhausted my body over many labor-intensive task, yes. Though this may be hard work, I have never had to repetitively work hard. I knew at the end of the task, that was it. I rested. I moved on. The fatigue dissipated. I had a break and knew there would be one.
I have been reflecting on this for the last few weeks because I have felt in a state of ‘go, go, go’ trying to juggle the handful of occupations and extra-curricular activities that occupy my time. The more I look around and reflect on every thing and person and opportunity, the more I also feel a little shame. I am sensitive to this shame, because I know how therapeutic I find the task of house cleaning. It is a mindless, robotic routine of obsessive compulsive busy-ness in which my body is occupied and my brain is able to reach a meditative state. Hard work is good for the soul, and the level of satisfaction from completing a task is relative to how hard the task is. There is a reason why we appreciate something more when we work hard to get it, too.
Unfortunately, there are cultures of people where the hard work is all they know, like Asian rice farmers or immigrants trying to feed a large family, as well as send money back home to poorer relatives. There is an entire class of society born into physical labor just to put food on the table. Here, there is no break, no let-up; a real ‘go, go, go’.
There are also classes of people that are born into money, connections and leizure. Domestic drama may be the most stress they ever know, and they surely have never dirtied their nails.
There are people in the middle that work a job and go to school simultaneously until the career pans out and provides a ‘take a break, vacation days’ routine.
So, intellectually we know what working hard looks like, but gratefully, few of us know real hard labor. The days that I find stressful and get anxious and over-whelmed are the days I need to be most appreciative of; it could be a lot harder. My body gets rest, my hands get clean, I may even get a massage. We each have our own level of effort we put out, relative to the freedoms we want to enjoy in life: the money to pay the bills, to buy the ‘things’, to eat the foods we like, to visit places for travel, to have the time for spending with friends and family. Sacrifices are always made, budgets are balanced.
The *real* hard work is no let up; no break. Hand over fist trying to make the money to pay the bills to feed the family to sweat it out, be sleep deprived and get up and do it all over again. Physical and mental exhaustion, no rest, fatigue.
Hard work is a hard life. This is the difference. Again, each person defines the end of their rope differently, but some of us rarely stop to reflect on how easy our lives really are.
Without making this political, we all know times are tough and some would beg for any job, even the hardest physical labor. This is heart-breaking and unfortunately the middle class in America is dwindling into more poverty, where the hard work, if any, may be all they have.
It is not surprising that the real origin of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ comes from the King James Bible, Luke 22:44 ‘And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’
None of us will know this; few of us care to imagine.