Labor day

Happy Labor Day

Saturday evening past, like many, I was saddened by the news of the death of Senator John McCain. As stated by a host of his colleagues and friends, we anticipated that the day would come and yet it was difficult to accept that it had. I was impressed by the care he had taken in communicating his values and wishes to his family and those who loved him best. He articulated how he wanted to be remembered and his vulnerability in acknowledging both the good he had accomplished and the errors he had made seemed especially powerful in our current political climate. Listening to the various media outlets discuss his death and his life, I felt inspired by his conviction, his determination, and his maverick spirit. It was a night that rose above the vitriolic politics of our time as we heard the testimony of many friends on both sides of the aisle who appreciated John McCain’s integrity and statesmanship.

Just nine days prior, another American icon died. Aretha Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, died on August 16, 2018, of pancreatic cancer at the age of 76. A long time friend of the family has been responsible for her funeral arrangements. Unlike Senator McCain, who detailed where he wanted to die, how he wanted to leave his beloved family ranch near Sedona, Arizona, who he wanted to participate in his funeral ceremony and more, Aretha Franklin did not have detailed funeral arrangements. Funeral home director, O’Neil D. Swanson, good friend of Aretha’s father, said, “Aretha never talked about death. She was very much about life.” And yet the viewings scheduled and the ceremonies leading up to her funeral on August 31 capture her flamboyant style and her royal air. While unable to attend Franklin’s funeral because of his commitment to speak at McCain’s funeral the next day, Former President Obama wrote a letter to be read at her funeral service. Deeply moved by her singing at his inauguration and the long friendship his wife and Franklin shared, Obama wrote of her life, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade – our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”

It is interesting to think of these significant people and the work to which they devoted their lives, especially on Labor Day weekend. A federal holiday since 1894, Labor Day was initiated to celebrate the contributions of American workers and to advocate for economic and political democracy. Because work is a way to express creativity, develop character and provide resources for the common good, it is important that we have set aside a day to honor it and to consider how to make it more accessible for all.

When my youngest son was a child, he was convinced that he wanted to be a professional basketball player when he grew up. One evening when I went outside to tell him dinner was ready, he told me that when he grew up, the only thing that would get him off the court would be the buzzer indicating that the game was over. I loved his determination and youthful ambition. It is important for us to encourage our children and those children we influence to dream about who they will become and what they will do to contribute to society through their work. It is also critical for us to be intentional about creating fairness in labor opportunities because work is a foundation of personal dignity. Though he is not a professional basketball player today, he has found his way into work that is meaningful to him and helpful to others. It is what we pray for all people.

Beyond celebrating the return of college football, enjoying the last getaway of summer, or lighting up the grill one more time, Labor Day is a day to realize the importance of work as a way to express our own personal uniqueness and a day to appreciate each other for the ways in which our work makes the world a better place. Senator McCain and Aretha Franklin are but two examples of lives well-lived and appreciated for the contributions they made to the well-being of our country.

Labor Day, as originally conceived is also a day to recommit ourselves to valuing the contributions of all people, creating fair wages, reasonable hours and decent living conditions for all. This Labor Day, may we commit ourselves to encouraging youth to listen to their lives for what they might do to realize their unique selves; may we find a way to thank those workers around us for the ways in which they contribute to the wellbeing of the whole; and may we advocate for decent work opportunities for all. Happy Labor Day.