Over the past 18 months or so, we have been thinking a lot about work. There have been some who lost their jobs. There have been others who have been afraid. Some whom many took for granted suddenly were labelled “essential.”
I felt from the beginning this was a label that represented the hubris of those who suddenly realized all of those nameless ones who served them were, indeed, necessary for the functioning of our society.
Those who are producers and builders and who take care of our infrastructure have worked this whole time insuring we all have food, water, and electricity. Of course, there have been and still are significant issues that have affected availability and pricing but most of the work has continued.
There are others who have been required to work at home with all the challenges that entails. The effects have been unfair and uneven. There have been few groups as overwhelmed as our teachers, some of whose already significant workload more than doubled. There have been still others who have decided that not working is more profitable than working.
Our health care workers and hospital support staff have been rightly honored for their continued compassionate endurance for the last year and a half. None of this is to complain or judge but to point out what a muddle we are still in and why some have emotions that are running a little hot right now.
This Labor Day sees our nation rethinking work and hopefully appreciating all those who have kept us going during the past year in the face of political disunity, protests and riots, confusing communication, controversial mandates, fear, and unwarranted verbal abuse (in my short forays to do my shopping I have seen enough to know that at one point it was nearly constant).
Work, honest and productive work, will always be needed and often be undervalued. As much as I hate to admit it, we need bureaucrats and politicians — some have very difficult jobs. We need professors and researchers. We need clerics and entertainers (hopefully not embodied in the same skin). But what all of those depend upon are the ones who dig stuff out of the ground and turn it into something useful. We all depend upon those who grow our food, build our bridges, and keep things working.
The bias toward “college education” I believe is fading somewhat. It needs to because it is not for everyone for many reasons. We are all part of a society that is more efficient than any the world has known. That is because we have people who work hard because work is honorable and gives meaning to our lives. Our bodies and minds are built for physical work and figuring out how to create and move and repair. We are also built for rest, study, and meditation. The labor movement brought some of that balance to the world.
This balance is seen in the first creation account in Genesis when we read that God rested on the seventh day and blessed it because he was finished. This has been passed to us through the Ten Commandments and the New Testament (Jesus took time alone in the wilderness). It has been passed to us culturally through those such as Brother Lawrence (1614 — 1691) and Benedict of Nursia (480 — 547). Benedict established monasteries in Europe and is the author of the Benedictine Rule. He was concerned that the monks not forget the value of physical work. Note the care for those who were weak near the end of this quote from chapter 48.
“Idleness is an enemy of the soul. Therefore, the Brethren ought to be employed at certain times in laboring with their hands, and at other fixed times in holy reading... On Sunday all shall devote themselves to reading, except such as are deputed for the various offices. But if any one shall be so negligent and slothful as to be either unwilling or unable to meditate or read, let him have some work imposed upon him which he can do, and thus not be idle. To the Brethren who are of weak constitution or in delicate health, such work or art shall be given as shall keep them from idleness, and yet not oppress them with so much labor as to drive them away. Their weakness must be taken into consideration.”
The existence of Labor Day reminds us of how undervalued those who do physical labor have been in the past. Thank you to all who have worked through our current trouble. Thank you to all those who work with your hands, you are doing God’s work.