Each day I go to work to graze at my desk,
I pass many a sullen cow grazing in the field.
They have ropes around their necks that bind
them to a peg,
And I a tie around my neck to bind me to my desk.
Through my large office window, I see calves torn
from their mothers:
Farmer wants their milk, and their milk he will have.
Through the door across the floor, I see my kids turned away:
Boss milks my time and energy, and not a pint will he share.
That’s why my kids cry each day I leave for work;
‘Tis the pain of knowing that when that night Boss drops
me home, all he’ll drop are drops of me.
O lord, that’s all they can have, my poor little kids: drops of
my energy, drops of my time–drops of me!
My old friend Doran recently attained the age of mandatory retirement. His trials following the prompt notice from his employer to vacate his office inspired me to write this poem. The day after it was served to him, I had dropped by his home to thank him for his service and to wish him cheerful years in retirement. It was not to be: the thanks I conveyed, but the good wishes I held back. For once I had taken the seat across his reading desk, I quickly noticed that there was laid neatly on it a creased and yellowed job application template that he had last used perhaps thirty years earlier. He kept a finger busy running back and forth across its breadth, and his glazed eyes keenly followed that finger, obviously to pick any choice words that lay in its wake. With his free hand he drafted one application after another, and when he was done he gathered them and asked me to drop him off a few blocks down the street. That I did, and as we parted, I watched painfully as he slowly pulled his worn frame out of the car and for a moment stood fixed to a spot while he looked in all directions as if to pick one which shone even faintly with the promise of a job. That day he submitted all his applications, but when the replies came a few days later they all said in one way or another: you are too old; go work on your farm.
So there in a few dismissive words is the harsh bargain offered to all employees during their years in the corporate caliphate that the world of work has become: when you are sharp of wit and brimming with energy, come work for us; but when you have nothing left, kindly go home and attend to your personal affairs. So our personal affairs always get the worst of the bargain: firstly, at the end of each day when we carry limp wits and a weary body from office to home; and secondly, at the end of our employment years when we carry a worn and broken body “to the farm.” Yet this is what passes for work-life balance! That is why I think work-life balance should not aim merely at balancing work hours against life hours but also at balancing the quality of body that we take to work against the quality of body that we take to personal life. This we can only do by fighting for the peak hours of our physical and mental abilities lest they go to waste or to someone else. That is why I rise at 4:30am: it affords me a daily opportunity to avail my wits in their sharpest state to my most intellectually demanding personal affairs for some two hours. I also shop on Saturday afternoons and attend church on Sunday evenings so that I don’t dissipate my wits and energy on matters that don’t demand them. It is only such acts of vigilance that can preserve a soul from the fate of my friend Doran—and from my poem.