Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day

Whenever I think of Labor Day, of course I think of the flag, patriotism, the work ethic of American people, especially American immigrants who paved the way for their children to have easier lives and jobs.

But those easier jobs present concerns, perhaps, of a new kind: today even if we work in a posh office or a friendly store, we find ourselves faced with that very American problem of not enough time in a day. We have multi-tasked ourselves into an existence with outrageous standards and a pared-down workforce, and we are neglecting things like relaxation, meditation, silence. Maybe that's one thing Labor Day should help us to put into perspective.

When I think of labor, hard labor, I think of coal miners, or people who pulled plows through their fields, and it has a primitive feeling, a feeling of the past. Yet there are plenty of people who still break their backs, I'm sure, as my grandfather did, working on the railroad for so many years that from the time he retired until the day he died at 92 years old, you could still feel the muscle in his back, hard and permanent from toil.
Work like that is not enviable, and yet without the labor of the people who do it, we would be lost. Work really is noble, although we all probably have our moments of wishing we could do anything but what we are required to do.

They say that when people stop working, at retirement age or even later, they begin to decline. In this sense work is necessary because it provides purpose--even for people with unenviable jobs like marching into the bowels of the earth to dig for coal. Purpose is nobility. I think too of the ancient monks and their chant, "Ora et Labora." Work and Prayer. The two, side by side, provide the spiritual and the physical, the union of the two aspects of humanity.

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