The Burden of Labor

The burden of labor eased the burden of life.
— Nicholas Carr, The Glass Cage

The brilliant Nicholas Carr didn't have to go all Robert Frost on me to make me like his writing even more. I just finished Carr's book The Glass Cage, which I read shortly after reading his earlier book The Shallows. Both of the books opened my eyes to technology's influence on the working world and on our souls. From discussions of cars that drive themselves, to pilotless cockpits, to how we use our phones as extensions of our own bodies, I was again and again thrilled with Carr's ability to put into words what I've felt but not had the wherewithal to verbalize or even know I wanted to verbalize.

I am also much less likely to instantly revert to Google Maps now than I was before. I want my brain to keep some mapping skills so I can locate myself in time and space, rather than always in an app.


It was so timely to read Carr's lengthy discussion at the end of The Glass Cage about Robert Frost and the themes of his poetry - how they support letting our tools enhance, rather than take over, our lives. I have been making my way through a book of Robert Frost poetry some nights before bed, for no reason other than I thought it might be fun to practice reading poetry since I already know a few Robert Frost poems and since we had this book on our shelf.

This line of Carr's, The burden of labor eased the burden of life, which was inspired by Robert Frost, is perhaps my biggest takeaway from the book, Google maps aside. It stopped me when I read it, because I know it to be true.

I shared in an earlier post about sweeping and doing what Anne Lamott calls "monk work" as a balm for the troubled mind and soul. I had to let the work do it's magic on Cash the other day too.

He started one of our recent at-home school days with a bad attitude, which had displayed itself not once but twice while we were still at the breakfast table. I tend to want to "lighten the load" for my kids at challenging moments, but I'm realizing that sometimes they actually need to carry it. In a moment of clarity, without anger, I told Cash that he could begin his day cleaning the chicken coop. Although it was his turn, he generally would not have done the chore till later in the afternoon after schoolwork and playing took precedence. And Bauer most likely would have helped him. 


But not this chilly morning. He was made to go upstairs and dress warmly, and then work hard on a hard task. I asked him to think about his heart and his unpleasant attitude about doing the thing that our day calls for. I asked him to do his best, even if the job was hard. I told him that sometimes we need things to be harder to train our hearts. Since my encouragement to "have a good attitude" was clearly not working, I wanted to see if a task could do the task.

Twenty-five minutes later, I went to check on Cash out in the coop, and he had worked that poopy attitude right out with the poop. He took to the job like he was Bauer, he was engaged wholeheartedly in bringing the task to completion, and his countenance was changed. The hard work had done the work, and the burden of labor has eased the burden of life. The remainder of our school day, Cash did his assignments with determination and cheerfulness. 

What a gift that we get to work, to do hard things, to be challenged, and to not always be coddled. What a gift that writers write things that help us see ourselves for who we are and who we want to be. What a bonus when the poetry I read before bed is not just for sleeping and dreaming but for living and learning.