Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Community Values

i worked yesterday for almost 8 hours disassembling, moving, and reassembling steel trusses that are the framework for a substantial building. there was not a single piece that one person could lift alone. heavy pieces of steel were unbolted, stacked on a trailer, unstacked and rebolted, flat on the ground one truss atop the previous, with wood blocks between, ready for the crane to lift them into place. there is always the possibility for minor and major injuries and breakage in such work. a 200 pound steel beam slipping and falling 2 inches can really hurt a finger or toe.

there is a pool of people who volunteer their time and labor to the local boat school, a non-profit trade school. i do it because the school teaches traditional wooden boatbuilding, and i am an old carpenter. i worked with four other men. this is only the second time i have given a day thusly, as i am newly moved here, so i don't really know much about anyone yet. we showed up ready to work, pretty much on time. after all, we are volunteers and i might have been the youngest at 62. the work we did required that everyone stayed aware of everyone else at all times for safety. also that 3 or 4 of us at all times cooperated moving or assembling heavy things.

No one was injured. no harsh words spoken. nothing was accomplished without careful attention to each other and to the work at hand. so much care does not leave much room for conversation, but a surprising amount of communication goes on with someone on the other end of a steel beam, or with the guy holding up something heavy while your hands are underneath it putting a bolt on a nut. we smiled all day. we had lunch together and learned a bit about each other. three of these volunteers have done this for several years. one of them is a grandfather and was in the us navy for 30 years. two of us are new.

i know nothing of their politics or religious life. they know nothing of mine. i do know that they gave freely of themselves for what i assume we each consider a common good of some sort. i do know that they are courteous and good-natured. i think it safe to guess that there are differences of opinion about politics or faith; that we may see our impulse to volunteer from differing perspectives; that we may see common good from from a range of philosophical bases. i cannot conceive of any one of them condemning me for being a liberal atheist. i feel confident that we will, as we become more acquainted, agree or disagree on such difficult issues as abortion without losing respect for each other and that we will continue to work together.

it is a leap of sorts to use this as a metaphor for shared work on a non-physical project such as public policy, but all shared endeavors require individuals to carry a portion of the load without coasting or pushing. We work together toward a specific goal knowing that we may have disagreements about other things, or even about the reasons each of us comes to work on a particular project. Working together gives a basis for respect so that we can begin the hard discussions.

did i mention that those truss pieces are heavy?