Sunday, September 2, 2012

Labor Day - 2012

“And just what do you do?” he asked. Hmm. I wondered what I should say. I am seventy-six years old. What am I supposed to be doing?  

The folk that keep asking this question are mostly smart people.  But their wondering always makes me cringe. Why? Because like my interrogators I also confuse being with doing. I’ve worried about the doing part much of my life. And I, too have walked up to retired people and said, “Uh, what are you doing now?” Some of the most miserable people I know are the retirees. They think because they don’t put on a suit every morning and head out to some office that they really don’t matter. The old book says that all of us count—the old and the young and all those in-between. We are more than the sum total of what we do.  

And Labor Day we need to remember this. Take that checker in the grocery store. Is she only a checker? Nah. There are layers and layers of her life. Like most of us she is like an iceberg. She’s got a family. She’s worried about her boy. She found a lump in her breast and is terrified. She goes to church when she can and most Sundays the singing especially touches something deep down. Standing eight hours a day her varicose veins are giving her trouble. Yet she smiles and asks what kind of a day you are having and makes you feel better as you wheel your cart out to the car. 

Or take the man who works as an Air Conditioner repairman. He told me he worked most of the night just to keep a family cool.  He didn’t complain—he just stated the fact. He said proudly, “I got it fixed.” He has never seen the inside of a college, he doesn’t read much. He watches TV and can tell you all the stats of Clemson and Carolina and a few more. He’s got a wife that doesn’t work outside the home. He says it with pride.  He has two grown kids he worries a lot about. His Mama died last year of lung cancer. Smoked too many cigarettes too many years. He told me, “You know so many people don’t think I’m important. When I come to fix their air conditioner they tell me to come in the back door. They stare at me like I’m a nobody. Yet I fixed their air conditioner when it didn’t work.” 

Labor Day was declared a national holiday in 1894. It was first called a “workingmen’s holiday.” It was to celebrate all “that vital force of labor without which we could never have made this country great.” 

This holiday our labor force is threatened with 12.8 million of us either without jobs or working without benefits. Somehow those who govern us must help get us out of this grotesque situation. I wonder how our politicians really sleep at night knowing that out there just beyond their gated houses, 8.3% of their families are suffering because they have no job and so health insurance.

What will it take to break the logjam in Washington? Those that serve us—emphasis on the serve—need to remember that there is more to their jobs than making sure they get elected again and keeping the well-heeled happy. Who speaks for the voiceless men and women who would give anything to have a job? Abortion talk and rape talk and birther talk and dogs-on-top-of car talk doesn’t help our enormous problems. 

And so on this approaching Labor Day I think of that Grocery store checker and that good man who must walk through too many back doors to keep us cool. And I think of those over twelve million who would give anything to have a job.  

Labor Day is more than saying Rah-Rah to the working force—it should be a commitment from all of us to change this lop-sided way we have of doing our business in Columbia and Washington.  But we can’t just leave all our problems to the politicians. We all of us need to be kinder a little more patient with all those that do their parts to keep us going.  Maybe some phone calls, emails or letters to our representatives would not hurt. 

What do you do? They keep asking. Well, maybe not much in the eyes of the world. But if enough of us raised our voices and really cared about those not as lucky as we have been maybe, just maybe we could change this picture. That’s my challenge for this Labor Day.

(This article was published in The Greenville News (SC) Labor Day, September 3.)

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