Monday, July 29, 2013

The labor of others

I just finished a two week trip to Denver in which my wife and I got married.  We had already gotten the legalities out of the way in May, but the recent trip was a way to consecrate our marriage in front of family and friends.  It was a great time, and I felt and feel very blessed to be a part of such a nice ceremony, part of a new family, and married to a lovely wife.  I truly am fortunate.

I am also fortunate for the work that others have put into the ceremony.  My wife did a lot of the planning, and was gracious when I was a groomzilla about it all.  Her mother, my mother-in-law, footed the whole bill.  My sister and her partner, along with at least 10 (by my count) of their friends and her partner's relatives, and a goodly smattering of my own relatives, put in a huge amount of work to make it possible.  They drove people around, made and dj'd the music, prepared the food, decorated the backyard, and did scores of other things I know of and I don't know of.  We are fortunate enough to be able to repay them for their expenses, but we can never truly repay the time they put into everything.

In my academic career, one of the key fields of history I've studied has been labor history.  I have my misgivings about labor history as a sub-discipline (number one on the list is that although its scholars have improved, they are still depressingly and predictably rigid in their supposedly "radical" ideology.)  But one thing I've learned is that things usually get done because others have done the work to get them done.  That was true of this wedding ceremony.  One's labor is not just the cash value of what one's skills can command in a given hour of employment found on the open market.  It's also a part of one's life, a gift of oneself for which money is only an approximation.

And as poor of an approximation money is, the money used to pay for the ceremony was itself the product of hours, days, and years of labor by my parents-in-law's frugality, and by my wife's grandparents (and maybe her great-grandparents?....I'm unclear on the story), who fronted the capital, took the risk, and worked hard managing a processing plant, and whose employees worked just as hard and in the process made the risks they took worthwhile.  The first order consumers, too, took the processed materials and finished them into products, and the ultimate consumers bought those products, making the entire enterprise worthwhile.  There's a school of thought that an economy, wealthy and prosperous, thrives from channeled self-interest (it's not from the benevolence of the butcher, etc) and (to mix scholarly metaphors) a release of entrepreneurial energies.  All true, I suppose.  And yet there is cause for gratitude for others who partook of the system and poured their energies therein.

One doesn't have to be an absolutist who believes that "all value comes from labor!" to acknowledge the immensity of the gifts my wife and I have received. Again, I am thankful to all my friends and family and to my wife for everything in the past two weeks.