Mind Matters — Labor on Labor Day

On Labor Day, I drove back to Chadds Ford from Boston. So what’s so meaningful about that, you may wonder? After all, millions of people every day travel up and down the northeast corridor in planes, trains and automobiles—movie title or not.

But that is just the point. None of us would be able to do these jaunts if it weren’t for all the unsung souls who make it possible. We see the state police and are thankful for them when we break down; yet get an adrenaline rush of fear when we see ones lurking on the side clocking our speed as we pass. We probably recognize the construction people too again with some ambivalence—yes, repair these roads—but not while “I’m” on it. However, when do we consider the guy pumping gas on the New Jersey Turnpike or the woman scrubbing the toilets in those restrooms we take for granted until we need one? Or the Starbucks team steaming coffee nonstop and the fast food handlers who face long lines for hours on end. We take for granted so many people who serve us.

When I was a short order cook at a custard stand while I was in college, I knew my work had an end point. It was not easy; people could be rude; the lines were long—I dreamt of twirling custard cones and frying hamburgers; and it was hot. And, I didn’t have to clean the bathrooms. So when I see all the service people we count on, I wonder what are their lives like, and what are their dreams? I try not to be one of the rude customers that I have encountered.

Yet, beyond having compassion for the people who help us, we also need to realize there is no way we can really get along without them. In other words, there really is no rugged individualism … we rely on others all the time! We at least see the lady cleaning the bathroom even if we don’t really take note of her. Likewise, the barista. Let’s take the analogy further – to the clothes we wear and the food we eat—to the laborers in the fields bent picking strawberries or lettuce or whatever; to the sewers and spinners of the fabric that covers us. So yes, these were my reflections on labor as I drove home on Labor Day.