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TRThursday: The Glory of Work and the Joy of Living

TRThursday

“The man who learns to love hard work will enjoy all of life.” – Unknown

This #TRThursday we will look at a passage from the Colonel’s autobiography where he reflects on his Badlands-Cowboy days. He writes the following in 1913, 55 years old, 4 years after leaving the office of the presidency, and around the time of the Amazon expedition that nearly took his life. In typical Rooseveltean fashion he gives a great deal of insight into what he loved and also what he has missed in the years which have passed. I think there is a lot in here we can relate to but even more we ought to heed.

- #TRThursday articles give us some manly insight and wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt every Thursday. Sometimes a quote, sometimes a snippet of his life...always manly! Read other TRThursday articles here. -

The Glory of Work and the Joy of Living

The following excerpt is from Chapter IV In Cowboy Land of Roosevelt’s autobiography.

Roosevelt with Rifle and Coonskin hat“It was still the Wild West in those days, the Far West, the West of Owen Wister’s stories and Frederic Remington’s drawings, the West of the Indian and the buffalo-hunter, the soldier and the cow-puncher. That land of the West has gone now, ‘gone, gone with lost Atlantis,’ gone to the isle of ghosts and of strange dead memories. It was a land of vast silent spaces, of lonely rivers, and of plains where the wild game stared at the passing horseman. It was a land of scattered ranches, of herds of long-horned cattle, and of reckless riders who unmoved looked in the eyes of life or of death. In that land we led a free and hardy life, with horse and with rifle. We worked under the scorching midsummer sun, when the wide plains shimmered and wavered in the heat; and we knew the freezing misery of riding night guard round the cattle in the late fall round-up. In the soft springtime the stars were glorious in our eyes each night before we fell asleep; and in the winter we rode through blinding blizzards, when the driven snow-dust burned our faces. There were monotonous days, as we guided the trail cattle or the beef herds, hour after hour, at the slowest of walks; and minutes or hours teeming with excitement as we stopped stampedes or swam the herds across rivers treacherous with quicksands or brimmed with running ice. We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle, or fought in evil feuds with one another; but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.”

Our Joy in the Strenuous Life

I have found something to be unfortunate and yet undeniably true in my life: for something to be truly fulfilling it must be difficult. Some easy things may bring momentary satisfaction, but for something to really bring me joy it must have some difficulty to it. I have noticed this most recently in friendships with other men. In order to bond, there must be some difficult thing we both take part it. Perhaps it’s working out, or openly growing together as fathers or husbands.

I think of the bond of men who have served in the military together. The military is not a fun place in the way that a coffee shop or movie theatre is fun; it is tough and restricting. Yet, if you get some men together who served they will talk like it was the best days of their life, though at the time they would have sung a different tune.

The same can be said for hard work (physically hard) or demanding teachers or coaches. It is always the hard days we remember with some fondness.

The End of Those Days

Roosevelt continues with some sobering and sad news: those days are behind us. Even at the time of his writing, the Badlands were no longer so “bad”. The strenuous life was to be found with the family; in the homes and gardens of average citizens.

Roosevelt with Rifle and Coonskin hat“It was right and necessary that this life should pass, for the safety of our country lies in its being made the country of the small home-maker. The great unfenced ranches, in the days of “free grass,” necessarily represented a temporary stage in our history. The large migratory flocks of sheep, each guarded by the hired shepherds of absentee owners, were the first enemies of the cattlemen; and owing to the way they ate out the grass and destroyed all other vegetation, these roving sheep bands represented little of permanent good to the country. But the homesteaders, the permanent settlers, the men who took up each his own farm on which he lived and brought up his family, these represented from the National standpoint the most desirable of all possible users of, and dwellers on, the soil. Their advent meant the breaking up of the big ranches; and the change was a National gain, although to some of us an individual loss.”

Final Thoughts

In many ways, Roosevelt hits on a sore spot for modern men. Our fields are gone. Our homes are pre-built. Our gardens are non-existent. Our fences don’t need mending and our animals don’t need tending to…because we don’t have any. Here lies much of our problem. Roosevelt recognized that men need the difficult work to find fulfillment and called us to live the strenuous life. Many men, however, have never known a day in the field and the glory of work. They recognize that something is missing, but don’t know what it could be. Rather than useful, practical work, they throw themselves into sports, weight-lifting, or movies and games, which give the feeling of excitement but are not as fulfilling as hard work with the hands which bonds men together.

What is the solution, then, for us in these modern times? I don’t really know. Some men are making a move towards a simple life and work with their hands. I think that is a good thing for those who are called to do so. However, Roosevelt found hard work even while away from the ranch. He got action wherever he was, whatever role he was in. I think that is a big part of being happy. There is always some good we can do, some difficult road we can take. The problem, I believe, is that we forget to look for it and then pass it by all the while complaining that we are not on it.

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