Our Common Life Depends Upon Each Other's Toil
|Looking down the River Arno from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence|
One of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is this one, which is listed among those one might say at the end of the day, at Compline (BCP page 134):
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live
in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day,
who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never
forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I thought about this prayer while I was watching a video from the New York Times online called the “Midnight Gardeners of Mumbai.” The video focused mostly on two men who water the plants in municipal gardens and highway dividers in Mumbai - the New York of India, as the writeup describes it. Pravin drives the water truck and Rajesh sits on top of it and aims the hose to drench the plants; they work after midnight when there’s less traffic. Pravin used to have a job in a company that suddenly went bankrupt and he lost everything; Rajesh was an orphan whose parents had been in a mixed religion marriage - Hindu mother, Muslim father. When they were killed, his Hindu grandmother took him in, but she changed his name, which had been a Muslim name. He doesn’t remember his parents. We watch the two of them drive through the dark city: we see them watering the gardens; taking a coffee break; caring for the truck; petting a street dog.
There are still pictures, too, of other night workers. Men and women, old and young. Pravin says, “Most people don’t know how much work happens in the night. Like watering these gardens or supplying milk, newspapers, vegetables, fruits. These are all daily essentials. The work is done by people at night. These people are invisible to Mumbaikars. They don’t know who does these jobs.”
I like that we have such a prayer in the Prayer Book that asks God to watch over those who work while others sleep and that asks us to never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil. But watching the film I also thought, there is so much that I don’t know about in the world. There are so many people who are invisible to me and I know nothing about them and yet they are much like me - they have had success, they have regrets, they love and get their hearts broken, they want to have a home, they do their work with care, they show kindness and also feel frustration. And their work contributes to my well-being every day. But I do not see them.
The Bible tells us that the work of God is invisible, too, comparing it to what happens when a seed is planted in the ground. Something happens to the seed and it begins to grow, and that thing that happens is certainly happening but we don’t see it. It’s underground. It happens while the sower sleeps. What we see is the fruit - but not what has made it become fruit.
Rajesh says that he has always worked very hard and that sometimes he wishes he could just sleep in. And I wondered what might happen to him while he sleeps? What seed might grow, what essential thing might be done, so that when he wakes he can simply enjoy the thing that happened that he did not have to do or make himself?
I am grateful for God’s unfailing providence, but I have been slow to apprehend the unseen people who work so I might have my daily essentials. There is so much I do not see, much that is invisible to me. There is so much I do not know and probably will never know.
And yet, and so, therefore, may I never forget that my life depends on others’ toil.