VALUESPEAK

A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker

 

THE PRIVILEGE AND BLESSING OF WORK

It has always struck me as more than just a little bit ironic that every year about this time America pays tribute to her working men and women by not working.

Not that I'm complaining. I appreciate a day off as much as the next worker bee. It's just the logic that throws me. I mean, on Thanksgiving we actually give thanks. On Arbor Day we go out and plant trees. On Christmas we celebrate a gift from God by giving gifts ourselves. On Easter we observe another divine gift by eating multi-colored eggs that were supposedly delivered by a rabbit.

OK, so the logic of Easter eludes me, too.

Still, it stands to reason that if we are going to celebrate America's workers, there ought to be something laborious about it. And no, I'm not talking about the effort it requires to pack a picnic lunch, or to go camping or boating or any of the pastimes we work so hard at enjoying during the long weekend. I'm talking about sweating. Toiling. Working. You know -- laboring.

Mom and Dad understood the concept. Around our house, Labor Day was just that: a day to labor. I don't remember it as a day for picnics or parties or backyard barbecues. We'd just had a full summer for that. Labor Day meant that school was back in session and it was time to work.

And so we did. We prepared the garden bed for winter. We pruned fruit trees. We bottled peaches and pears and tomatoes until the inside of our house was thick with steam and aroma. Sometimes there were special projects that we never got around to doing during the summer: painting the trim around the house; taking out an old, dead stump; planting new grass in that patch of dirt in the middle of the lawn that we used as home plate during spirited games of whiffle ball.

For me, however, the job was always the same: mowing, edging and raking the lawn. As the youngest of eight children, I always got the easiest -- and the most boring -- assignment.

It's not fair!" I protested one Labor Day. "I do the lawn all summer. Why can't somebody else do it today?"

"Because everyone else already has a job to do," Mom said.

So much for labor negotiations.

A late summer trip had interrupted regularly scheduled lawn care, and our yard looked it. The grass was tall and thick -- especially the edges. I shuddered. Dad didn't believe in power mowers or edgers, so this would require hours of back-breaking, wrist-snapping, energy-sapping labor.

What a way to spend Labor Day, huh?

Don't ask me how, but I survived the ordeal. I was tired from pushing the mower up and down the slope of our front lawn. My fingers ached from squeezing Dad's rusty grass clippers. And I was itchy from the grass that seemed to cover me. But for some reason, as I sat out on the front porch that evening looking out over the aesthetic results of my labors, none of that mattered. I was weary, but content. And I wasn't sure why until Mom came out with the lemonade.

"That's why we have you mow the lawn," she said as she handed me a tall, cool glass. "You do such a good job."

In retrospect, I'm sure the other lawns in our neighborhood looked every bit as good as ours. Maybe better. But that night I was King Lawnboy, and all was right in my carefully clipped kingdom.

I've never forgotten the feeling of satisfaction that came from a job well done. That's the feeling we ought to celebrate on Labor Day, for much of what we are as a nation we owe to the efforts of workers who are willing to work and who take pride in the results of their labors. So do something laborious this Labor Day, and savor the privilege and blessing of work.

'Tis the season, you know.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker

 

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.