Washing Out A Few Things

A book that has had a good sale (and it is hard to figure out why) is The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna. It is light summer reading about a gunboat on the China rivers; one gathers from the blurbs that McKenna, having served on such a boat, knows what he is talking about.

The great thing about the story is how the crew regained its self-respect by being forced to do its own work, and this under the pressure of a life-and-death situation. Among other things, when all the Chinese cheap labor had run away the sailors had to do their own washing, and McKenna has a nice touch when he tells of the deep satisfaction the men had in folding up and putting away the washing which they had done themselves. I think there was a therapy in this little accomplishment which was a kind of turning point for the whole story. If there is one thing more than another wrong with our society, it is that we have lost too many therapies. This is the point at which the gifts of our machines can be a curse. It is no surprise that institutions put us on “hand work” when our nervous systems have fallen apart. The pity is that so much of this is “busy work.”

A preacher friend of mine tells me he would like to take a job laying bricks for about a year so as to get again a sense of clear-cut accomplishment—so many rows of brick laid in so many hours. Lacking bricklaying, he seeks out little definite things to do in his broad and crushing ministry as his own private therapy.

Everybody is after us to think about world problems, to solve issues in the large, to worry ourselves practically insane over troubles we can’t do a thing about. This is not to say that we can be unconcerned about the large issues. It is to say, however, that it ...

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