For Those Whose Work Is Invisible

By cjohnson | October 23, 2005 10:42 pm

Heard on The Next Big Thing, a very amusing prayer written by novelist Mary Gordon and actually performed by singer/songwriters Suzzy and Maggie Roche. You can find audio of the song here, (at timestamp 3:10 or so on the audio stream).

It’s in the style of a prayer (so Sean and Mark will kill me!) and here’s a transcript (I chose US spelling and improvised the punctuation, so sorry Ms Gordon):

For Those Whose Work Is Invisible

For those who paint the undersides of boats,
Makers of ornamental drains on roofs – too high to be seen,
Cobblers who labor over inner soles,
Seamstresses who stitch the wrong sides of linings,
For scholars whose research leads to no obvious discovery,
For dentists who polish each gold surface of the fillings of upper molars,
For civil engineers and those who repair water mains,
For electricians, for artists who suppress what does injustice to their visions,
For surgeons whose sutures are things of beauty.
For all those whose work is for Your eye only,
Who labor for Your entertainment or their own,
Who sleep in peace or do not sleep in peace, knowing their efforts are unknown.

Protect them from downheartedness – and from diseases of the eye.
Grant them perseverance, for the sake of Your love, which is humble, invisible and heedless of reward.

As you might imagine, my favourite line is the fifth one. As we’ve discussed on this blog before, progress in science is incremental…there are lots and lots of us chipping away at the coal face, producing the bulk of the progress. But most people only relate to the “Eureka!” moments. Sigh.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Science and Society, Words
  • Plato

    A “eureka” moment does not have to be a flood light, but the smallest gain. Would you do it, if you weren’t paid?

    How could “one thing” be devalued by such “a moment” that by what another is doing, could be devalued by the “lifelong” measure?

    We are not all Faradays for sure, but by the grace of lifelong ideals, we bath:)

  • Philip

    You might want to read “Coal Train–II” by John McPhee (The New Yorker, 10/10/05)for a big-picture sense of how much we depend on “those whose work is invisible.”

  • spyder

    You are quoting a song by the Roche sisters! That in itself is indeed revealing about you and your musical tastes. I, along with my friends, have enjoyed them for, dare i say, decades. They are hugely appreciated by the core constituency of the Oregon Country Fair family as well as various small enclaves of “hip” people hidden in the foothills and rolling coastal mountains of CA. A tribute to Shirley Horne and then a Roche sister song: it is all too much.

  • Gray Lensman

    “For seventh grade teachers, whose effects may not be seen for generations, if ever.”

  • janet

    I started to write a paean to dentists, but I thought that might be a little geeky, even for this crowd….

  • Clifford

    Gray Lensman: I did find it odd that teachers were not mentioned…. thanks.

    janet: go for it!


  • Matrix

    Line 4 as you would guess is my favourite, followed strongly by line 9. Thanks. cmj

  • Clifford

    cmj: – of course!



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