I grew up in a small town in Illinois, not far from where I live now. As a young elementary school child the only thing I thought about Labor Day was it meant that we would start school the next day and summer would be over. I didn’t mind, because I loved school and the nuns that taught at our parish school. When I was in eighth grade, and by then school had started in late August, our wonderful teacher, a Sister of Divine Providence, talked to us about Labor Day. She gave me a whole new appreciation for it as she spoke about the dignity of work. She told us then that many people who love their jobs consider it a vocation. That in itself broadened our meaning of “vocation.” The assignment she gave us was to think about the various people who lived in our neighborhood and the work they did.
The first people I thought about were my parents. They both worked. My Mom worked at an air force base as the civilian head of Security Police. She reported to a Colonel. She explained that it was her job to make sure that the base was safe for the people working there and that the military police did their assigned jobs each day. My father was a janitor in the local public middle school. When he worked the 3-11 p.m. shift his job was to clean the classrooms, empty the trash, mop and shine the floors. He took pride in his work that the school was clean and ready for the next day’s teachers and kids. In our neighborhood we had a manager of a local theater, a steel mill worker, a nurse, a banker and a construction worker. As per our assignment I came to understand that each of these laborers saw themselves as working for the common good of our local city and its residents.
Now in the neighborhood of our local convent I have a EMT/fireman, a city water management supervisor, and a state trooper all across the street. All of them take pride in their work and are great neighbors who help the people in our neighborhood. Whether it is a small thing like bringing up the trash cans from the street on trash day to the garage, thus saving me steps; or bigger things like fixing the overflowing dishwasher, or flooding in the basement, installing a new garbage disposal, or plowing snow from the driveway–they are there because they care about people.
What I know now that I didn’t at that early age is that Labor Day is a celebration and remembrance of all the people who do jobs that we often don’t even think about but upon whom we rely. We need the diversity of labor and we need to continue to respect people no matter what job they do. We need to find ways of showing our gratitude as well because work keeps our society going daily.
As my eighth grade teacher said, any “job” can be a “vocation” if people truly enjoy their work. So on this Labor Day let’s be especially grateful for all the people whose vocation it is to serve the common good. In these Covid pandemic days I especially think of the overworked doctors, nurses and hospital staff and the long hours they serve. I think of the firefighters battling raging fires in California, and now certainly all those first responders where Hurricane Ida has left its destruction. May they all be blessed.
Our Provident God has given each of us a “job” and hopefully a “vocation” to fulfill. May we all find meaning and love in that choice. Happy Labor Day!
Think about all the workers on whom you rely–just in a day. Have you thanked them lately?
Barbara McMullen, CDP