San Francisco used to be a working town, but now we mostly play computer games. To be sure, some of those games are complex and difficult, but mostly we just sit in front of computer screens all day (like I’m doing right now). So it was with refreshing joy that I began “working” with Angel and his men. My “work” was supervision—choosing colors, deciding what should be painted and what left alone, etc. But I was delighted to discover that some people actually still work in San Francisco, with their hands. None of them can afford to live in San Francisco, but they drive across one of our bridges every day to make the City more beautiful.
Angel and his men are mostly from Mexico, and mostly Christians. God gave Angel a sanguine temperament, and he uses it. Pivoting his stout body about on scaffolding or painting booms with admirable energy, he is never dark-faced. He smiles while he works, frequently humming, and his crew love him for it. All the men, in fact, go about their work with simple joy, a marked contrast to the gloominess that characterizes most residents of our city these days. A problem is never a problem for these guys, who always find a way rather than simply saying “It can’t be done.” Every evening they climb into their cars to face the traffic between us and their homes in Oakland or Santa Rosa or San Mateo, but they do not complain.
We rent our main academic building to a private school that charges $35,570 a year to educate elementary school children. Why do parents pay so much for this education? Because this San Francisco school teaches the children of software engineers and lawyers and doctors to work with their hands. They’ve transformed our auditorium into a high-ed wood shop, because even the most privileged parents know that we need to work with our hands to be human.
Christians believe that God came to earth not as a software coder, or as a government administrator, or as a university professor. To be human, he chose to work as a carpenter. Angel the Painter and his crew have inspired me to keep the wood shop for our school, even after our wealthy tenants move out. I’m going to plant a garden for vegetables and flowers in the backyard of our old convent and encourage students work with their hands in the soil. Even in the city, we can raise chickens and maybe even have a goat or two. God’s good sun and his blessed rain still fall, even upon our post-human metropolises. And it is the manual laborers that show us how to be fully human.