Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor: It's What We Do

Labor Day: A grand idea, this notion that we respect and reward work. Labor: The act as well as  the people who commit it. Over time that motif has degraded somewhat to simply a long weekend or day off. For those who work alone, who are the smallest of small entrepreneurs, it is probably just another day. I know it is for me. How about you?

When I was young (I was once), Labor Day was a time for picnics, speechifying (mostly political) and no work; like Sunday, only a Monday. Stores were closed, families gathered (it was the end of summer, too, and school started the next day), and public speakers tried to make workers feel they were important. And of course they were.

Labor, even 50 years ago, was committed by people. Machines were there of course, but they were operated by hands attached to real arms. We were just beginning to move into autonomous tools, but it wouldn’t be long before we, the hands and heads of work, would start turning over our skills to machines that were smarter (mostly), safer (mostly), cheaper to operate (always) and (sometimes) better at accomplishing intricate, repetitive tasks. Now even that is old.

For some of us the idea of work has long been doing something without assistance, without direction from people or machines, of being both the CEO and the Foreman and the Grunt. That’s what writing represents for me.

Labor day? Every day is labor day. Even when I say I’m taking a day off, part of me remains behind, working even when no new words appear on the screen. I’ve evolved through the whole history of the work of writing, too. From scratches in the dirt with a stick, through crayons and pencils on any surface I could reach, to paper and blackboard. The process still includes hand-written portions, in notebooks and on scraps of anything that will take a pen or marker or pencil, though most of what I write is here, on the screen, in a digital code I cannot really visualize. It’s one of those things I have to accept and then go on.

How do you spend Labor Day? For me it is much like any other day, except that there are some places closed, some people I might need to talk to who tell me with an automated message that they are “out of the office until Tuesday.”

Of course that doesn’t include everyone. I spent nearly 20 years in a rescue squad, and I know very well that days and nights and dates and dinners are all subject to change when the calls go out. Those folks who do that today, who respond in fire trucks and police cars, ambulances or aircraft, tankers or tanks don’t call a halt to their work to honor or be honored.

So when the calendar shows me it is Labor Day (the one with capital letters), I stop and give  thought to those who contribute to our world everyday, and especially to those who make our lives safer, more secure, and more satisfying, even if they can’t take the day off.

May everyone have a reason to celebrate this day.

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