Best Defense

On hard work and dirty fingers

I’m a big fan of hard work.



I’m a big fan of hard work. I do a lot of it myself, but all mental — reading and writing. But it isn’t physical labor. I was reminded of this the other day when I cleaned the chain connecting the mooring ball to the mooring for my boat.

That task involved paddling out, hauling the mooring ball into the dinghy, and hacking away at the weeds and mussel shells that have grown all over the chain and ball over the winter. It is sweaty, dirty work. By the time I had finished, the chain was perhaps 30 pounds lighter, and I was tired and filthy. I went home and took a shower, and noticed after a good scrubbing that my hands were still dirty. My fingernails remained blackened, and the much of the sea bottom had worked itself into the whorls of my fingerprints and the scrapes the barnacles had inflicted. It had been a while since I worked so hard that the dirt wouldn’t come out. As I write this, a few days later, I can still see some of it worked into the skin of my fingers.

There is something redeeming about hard physical work that makes it more satisfying than mental work, I suspect. It certainly helps me sleep better.

Photo credit: Shinichi Morita/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola