Today is the first day of September. It’s also “Labor Day”. Labor Day was born out of a desire to celebrate the American labor movement, to honor the economic and social achievements of the worker, and to pay tribute to those whose contributions have helped to make our country prosperous and strong.
The Knights of Labor (an organization established in 1869 to lift up the workingman) and the Central Labor Union (an early trade union which eventually branched out into local unions) organized the first “Labor Day” parade which took place in New York City, in 1882. The original proposal suggested that the day start with a parade through the streets to show the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations”. After that, there would be a celebration of the workers and their families. This was to be a “holiday for the workingman”. As the importance of Labor Day grew, governmental recognition took place, and in 1887 Oregon became the first state where the bill was passed.
A lot has changed in the past 132 years, hasn’t it? We’re paid a lot more that the average worker who earned 12¢/hour, back in 1882. But, then again, things cost a lot more and we have a lot more. “Blue Laws” (which kept many businesses closed, on Sundays, in order to honor the Sabbath) have in most cases been repealed. Many people are expected to work “as long as it takes to get it done”, regardless of the day of the week or the personal cost.
Of course, this holiday isn’t celebrated by everyone. People in so many jobs can’t take this day off. Nurses, physicians, police officers, firefighters, restaurant employees all work. That list goes on and on. In the world of retail, very few places are closed. This has become another weekend to celebrate even more consumption. After all, the more we buy, the more we have to work so that we can afford to (you guessed it) buy even more stuff! How sad.
Working has changed too. We often don’t have division between our “home life” and our “work life”. Many parents have to miss out on important events their children are involved in because they “have to work”. In spite of “take our daughters and sons to work day” (begun in 1993 as “take our daughters to work day”), family life often suffers for the sake of career.
Of course, we have to work to put a roof over our heads, put food on the table, and clothes on our backs. Of course, there are many who are passionate about what they do for a living and who truly make our country a better place to live. Sadly, however, the pursuit of financial and career success has become paramount in so many people’s lives. Some folks spend hours a day commuting to their place of employment, or work 60 hours a week. They come home exhausted, unable to fully participate in their family’s or friend’s lives. Then, on their days off, they rush from one thing to the other, trying to “squeeze in” all the stuff they didn’t have (or make) the time to think about during the work week.
I’ve heard the story too often where someone has worked all their life, waiting for retirement to really have fun, to take that vacation, to spend time with the ones they love, or simply enjoy life, then sadly died unexpectedly.
Before you know it, the children have grown up, you’re in the twilight of this life, and your tired. You’ve missed so much and think, “if I could do it over again, I’d recognize what’s truly important”.
What are we rushing to or from? What do we miss in the blur that is our life? How can we be responsible, hard-working people who are grateful for our careers, and yet have balance? How do we honor our lives?
Of course, let’s show esprit de corps (devotion, loyalty and enthusiasm) to our careers, but let’s show that same spirit to those who are most important in our lives!
Happy Labor Day!
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