Medicine For People!

August 2018: Labor Day

First United States Labor Day Parade

Labor Day

I like to work.

As a boy I enjoyed delivering newspapers and working as a grocery stock clerk and a car hop. In college I enjoyed working in the library and, later, in a research laboratory. In my fifties a relative with a fully-booked restaurant faced a Thanksgiving with an AWOL dishwasher. I filled in. It was a memorable and enjoyable holiday. Let me tell you, I gained a new respect for those on long-term commercial dishwasher duty!

As a doc, I enjoy my work. I can still get tired, still face problems that test and sometimes distress me—and I will do it as long as God lets me.

As an employer (I have probably had over 50 employees over the course of time) I know that not all people are like that.

Perhaps I was lucky. Neither of my parents was afraid of work and they made sure I turned out the same way. Any complaint of boredom from my side was met with, "I can find you something to do!" Any frown or sign of displeasure at a task merited a "Where’s the sense in making yourself unhappy over something you have to do anyway? Find some enjoyment in it!"

Children today might be happier if, like my generation, they grew up with songs like "Whistle while you Work." Songs composed during battles for the economic survival of laborers a century ago honor those labor leaders and celebrate our strong need for self-determination and community. There are also songs that celebrate and facilitate work.

Sea shanties developed with the purpose of helping mariners pull at the same moment while hauling up an anchor or raising a sail. In Asia more recently, factory workers gather before their workday to sing and prepare themselves for work.

Giving ourselves to work is not square. Giving ourselves to work displays no lack of imagination. Real imagination gives meaning to all our labor for the common good and for our own individual necessities of life.

My parents taught me that any task—no matter that some might call it menial—makes our world better. And we can find joy in rising above ourselves to accomplish that task with diligence, efficiency, and happiness.

For your labors for the common good, and I am sure there have been many, I celebrate you this Labor Day.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.