“Brains Against Pain”

From Mink River, by Brian Doyle

We heal things. That’s what we do. That’s why we’re here. We’ve always agreed on that. Right from the start. We do as well as we can. We fail a lot but we keep after it. What else can we do? We have brains that still work so we have to apply them to pain. Brains against pain. That’s the motto. That’s the work. That’s what we do. Soon enough we will not have brains that work, so therefore.


Specifically, that’s the motto and mission of the fictional two-man Department of Public Works. No surprise, this department is more in the line of soul work than of sewers and soils and streets and the other public works you might associate with your town’s department of same.

It’s the last morning of finals in my last semester of full-time classes. Thankfully, I have a brain that still works (even when, mid-essay, it doesn’t always feel like it). And as long as I’m wrestling with the question “What is school for?”, “brains against pain” doesn’t seem like a bad answer.

There are more than enough public works to be done in the world. Some of them have to do with infrastructure, which is important; some of them are even more important than that. That’s the work. That’s why we’re here. “People like us do things like this.” What else can we do?

A better definition of “emotional labor” I have yet to find. So therefore.