Words of Hope: Labor Day

My Dad loved hard work. He had a paper route at the age of nine. I visited Dad’s hometown this summer to watch one of our amazing directors. I remember Dad talking about pedaling up the hills around Anacortes early in the morning to deliver the papers. Dad loved basketball players who had grit and intense work ethic. He favored these players over the more svelte, genetically gifted but apathetic players. He admired those who could work hard. I think of his work ethic this Labor Day. Labor Day was always a peaceful holiday for us. NBC Camp’s busy season was over, and we could take a sound break to reflect on the summer. After a long and grueling camp schedule, Dad loved the September planning and restful time. The origin of the word labor meant a task or project and later came to mean “exertion of the body; trouble, difficulty, hardship.” 

In honor of Labor Day, I share this Labor Day poem. I would have held Dad’s hand and read this to him. I would have snuck a look at his face when we came to the final line and then been sure to thank and bless Dad for being someone who understood what work is.

What Work Is
By Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.

“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters. Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord [always doing your best and doing more than is needed], being continually aware that your labor [even to the point of exhaustion] in the Lord is not futile nor wasted [it is never without purpose]. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

“This is My commandment, love one another.” – John 15:12