From A Beautiful Possibility, by Edith F. Black
Culture and Drudgery
“But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:4)
Culture takes leisure, elegance, wide margins of time, a pocketbook; drudgery means limitations, coarseness, crowded hours, chronic worry, old clothes, black hands, headaches. Our real and our ideal are not twins. Never were! I want the books, but the clothes basket wants me. I love nature and figures are my fate. My taste is books and I farm. My taste is art and I correct exercises. My taste is science and I measure tape.
Can it be that this drudgery, not to be escaped, gives “culture”? Yes, culture of the prime elements of life, of the very fundamentals of all fine manhood and fine womanhood, the fundamentals that underlie all fullness and without which no other culture worth the winning is even possible. Power of attention, power of industry, promptitude in beginning work, method and accuracy and dispatch in doing it, perseverance, courage before difficulties, cheer, self-control and self-denial—they are worth more than Latin and Greek and French and German and music and art and painting and wax flowers and travels in Europe added together. The latter are the decorations of a man’s life, those first things are the indispensables. They make one’s sitfast strength and one’s active momentum—they are the solid substance of one’s self.
Father and mother and the ancestors before them have done much to bequeath those mental qualities to us, but that which scrubs them into us, the clinch which makes them actually ours and keeps them ours, and adds to them as the years go by—that depends on our own plod in the rut, our drill of habit; in a word, our “drudgery.” It is because we have to go and go morning after morning, through rain, through shine, through toothache, headache, heartache to the appointed spot and do the appointed work, no matter what our work may be, because of the rut, plod, grind, humdrum in the work, that we get our foundations.
Drudgery is the gray angel of success, for drudgery is the doing of one thing long after it ceases to be amusing, and it is “this one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13) that gathers me together from my chaos, that concentrates me from possibilities to powers and turns powers into achievements. The aim in life is what the backbone is in the body, if we have no aim we have no meaning. Lose us and the earth has lost nothing, no niche is empty, no force has ceased to play, for we have no aim and therefore we are still—nobody. Our bodies are known and answer in this world to such or such a name, but, as to our inner selves, with real and awful meaning our walking bodies might be labeled, “An unknown man sleeps here”!
But we can be artists also in our daily task—artists not artisans. The artist is he who strives to perfect his work, the artisan strives to get through it. If I cannot realize my ideal I can at least idealize my real. How? By trying to be perfect in it. If I am but a raindrop in a shower, I will be at least a perfect drop. If but a leaf in a whole June, I will be a perfect leaf.
This is the beginning of all Gospels, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand just where we are.