A Letter to Say ‘Thanks’ to the Workers Building Skyscrapers

Read this reflective narrative about construction workers.

At 4:30 in the morning — as Shemaiah makes her way downtown to early morning workouts at the gym — the only people moving in the world are construction workers. This is some of what she’d like to say to each of them. 

I see you bouncing up and down the hill in packs of three or four or six, with your yellow hard hats and your weighty shoes and your igloo coolers with lunches large enough to sustain a teenage athlete or a member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery or … a construction worker.

You’re either coming to start your shift, arriving sleepy and clutching travel mugs of steaming coffee. Or you are leaving after a night’s work, clenching the tip of a smoking cigarette with a firm, strong hand.

I imagine it must be brutal work. Hard work. There must be days when wind whips the scaffolding icy cold and you feel like your fingers are going to lose grip on the tools you hold. There must be days when the blinding, baking sun beats down and reflects off the buildings around you. And when you return home, your clothes must be dirty and full of plaster and steel shavings and sweat and grime. The shower at home must be a blessing — but also a necessity before you approach anyone, including your children, or sit anywhere, including your favorite chair that’s already worn through on the armrest. Especially that chair.

I want to ask you, is it marvelous to work on one of those humongous skyscrapers? Exhilarating? Is this the first one you have worked on? Or do you already know what it feels like to be part of something this colossal being built from beginning to end, to stand in the pit of the parking garage as it was dug four stories below ground level and then to watch as the height and elevation erect over weeks and months and years, as walls form, and the skin of the structure takes shape? Have you ever stood at the pinnacle of the tower? I don’t think you’d have to stand at the very apex to feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment and satisfaction and pleasure that you were part of such a feat as this. This structure that will outlive me and you and our children.

I want to tell you all of this — I want to publicize my appreciation, my admiration, perhaps applaud or shake your hands firmly with an all-understanding look that needs no words. But it is 4:30 in the morning. And we are groggy and tired and bleary and who am I kidding? I wouldn’t say all these things even in the middle of the day, even over beers. You would find me peculiar. I couldn’t say everything before you clocked in for your shift.

And then one of you passes me with your robust, sturdy stride and says, Good morning. There’s a lot of generosity in those words because it’s early in the morning and we both have work ahead of us but you took a small step to notice me, and then you took another small step to greet me. Maybe that generosity comes from looking down on the world from so very high up, from knowing how very small we all are. Maybe this generosity comes from being a split second or miniscule step from death’s door.

I still cannot say all of this in the amount of time it takes to cross the street, so I simply reply, Good morning. I hope those words are strong enough to carry all the respect and esteem I want to pack into them. 

So here’s a letter because I don’t know how to tap you on the shoulder and say all this out loud — how to tell you that I hope God will keep you safe and dazzle you with something spectacular today.

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