Hard Things

Dillon’s in the street raking up pulled weeds.

I step out to check in on him.

And, he begins.

“Dad, can we get a weed-eater?!”

“No use the garden shears.”

“Dad, can we get a leaf-blower?!”

“No it’s called a broom.”

We’ve been having this back and forth since he was old enough to be put to work in the yard.

I’m not a fan of gas, battery or electric-powered tools.

I prefer hand-powered tools.

I like the rhythmic, gentle, simple sounds of garden shears, hand clippers, brooms and rakes.

I can barely tolerate the blaring, intrusive, bludgeoning sounds of gas-powered garden equipment – blowers in particular.

Now, I’m not draconian about all of this.

I own a gas-powered lawn mower. I also own a reel lawn mower. Dillon refuses to use the latter. And, in his defense, our yard is not like Clint Eastwood’s postage stamp yard in Gran Torino. It’s pretty big. And, when it comes to cutting down a dead tree, I’ll go for my hand-saw first. But, to be honest, I don’t get in too many cuts before calling up my brother-in-law and asking to borrow his chainsaw.

So, yeah, I make compromises.

However, in general, I take intentional steps to make getting things done around our yard harder. I have a broken wheelbarrow, which I will not fix. I clean, sharpen and oil my hand-powered garden tools before storing them away for the winter; however, I let them dull throughout the rest of the seasons.

In turn, getting thing done in our yard takes more time and effort.

Sometimes a lot more.

However, there are a number of benefits to using hand-powered tools:

I don’t have to pay for gas, oil and expensive maintenance.

I don’t contribute to air pollution while using them.

And, my cutting movements are no longer as ruthlessly efficient, which gives the grasshoppers, crickets, toads and praying mantes plenty of time to get out of the way of an oncoming blade.

One day I was wheeling my broken wheelbarrow full of hand-powered garden tools around the yard when a neighborhood kid (who runs his own lawn-care business) came to the house looking to borrow a tool.

He looked at my wheelbarrow and asked:

“Why do you use those tools?”

I thought about it for a moment and answered:

“It’s important to know how to do hard things.”

That answer seemed to satisfy him.

It kept nagging me, though.

Why, I wondered.

Here’s why:


You’ve most likely seen a commercial for Alexa – that do-not-do-anything-for-yourself-device from Amazon.

“Alexa, dim the lights” asks a couch-lounging human.

“Alexa, turn down the oven” asks another pool-side human.

These commercials frustrate me.

“Get up and do it yourself!”

I actually say this aloud.

In front of my family.

I cannot help myself.

I’m not a luddite or anything; but, I’m none too keen on Jeff Bezos’ vision for the future – a future of ease, convenience, and near-instantaneous fulfillment of our wants and desires. A back-to-the-womb, Matrix-inspired future of amniotic-sac-floating-fluidity for all humans.

Yes, these kind of conditions may be appropriate for the beginning of life as a human. But, they’re fundamentally inconsistent with living life. Well, as far I understand this thing called life. And, as far as I understand it, I believe there’s an intimate, reciprocal and necessary relationship between my soul and my body.

Here’s what I mean…

Sometimes I get lost. I forget who I am. I forget the why of me. And, I forget what I’m supposed to be doing with this ephemeral bodily existence of mine. Not that I ever really know any of these things for sure. But, I think I know the general direction.

Anyways, when I get this way, my soul whispers “Come home.”

Now, my soul does not ask this of my mind.

My mind thinks it knows.

But, it doesn’t.

My soul asks this of my body.

And, how do I find my way home?

I go to the shed, grab a hand-powered tool and do manual labor.

I apply myself against earthly, material things that will not yield easily to my presence. I actively seek inconveniences, impediments, difficulties, and obstructions. Things that resist my efforts and frustrate my intentions. And, it’s only when I’m exhausted with sweat dripping off the brim of my hat that I earn a momentary, indirect glimpse of my soul.

It’s a shy thing.

So, that’s all I get.

But, it’s enough.

And, I go back to being okay.

That’s the only way I know how to come home.

And, that’s to do hard things.

For you, maybe it’s different.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn


Other Posts from the “Manual Labor” Series: