I recently had the privilege of working with Paul Clifford, a competent engineer who died last week after falling through a roof. Carrying out inspections on suspect roofs, under cracked bridges, and in structurally damaged buildings is the life of a structural engineer.
The personal safety risk of performing structural inspections is very high, but completing the inspection and providing a safe solution for contractors to follow is part of the calling. Engineers cannot send a contractor, artisan or labourer to do their inspections; they must put themselves in harm’s way and do them themselves.
Engineering is more than a profession. It is an obligation to work conscientiously to solve foreseen problems to prevent harm to the public. It normally includes engineers risking their own lives. If engineers have done their work well, then the public will be oblivious to the magnitude of the harm that has been avoided, and the danger to which engineers willingly exposed themselves. Therefore, no manner of appreciation is expected.
In 1907, Rudyard Kipling provided a glimpse into the obligations of engineers, in his poem, The Sons of Martha. It is generally unknown outside of the engineering community.
With Paul’s passing, perhaps it is time for the public to be aware that when an engineer dies doing inspections, it is no mere accident, but a sacrifice on behalf of others.
The Sons of Martha
The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.
They say to mountains, ‘Be ye removed’. They say to the lesser floods, ‘Be dry’.
Under their rods are the rocks reproved – they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.
They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matter hidden – under the earthline their altars are;
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city drouth.
They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their work when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand.
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.
Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat:
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that:
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own king in their common need.
And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed – they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise Runs:
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at [email protected]