There's talent and art behind everyday, silent labor | News Coverage from USA

There’s talent and art behind everyday, silent labor

opinion

My daughter, who lives outside of Portland, asked me on the phone the other day if I knew that Oregon was the first state to officially recognize Labor Day as a holiday? I didn’t know.

Labor Day began as a response to the labor movement in the late 1800s. Yes, we celebrate that it is from the labor of us all that we have the country that we have, but the true meaning of this holiday is getting confused with the unofficial marker that summer is over.

Every morning my wife and I walk to town. We make a left, walk through the neatly arranged development of solid homes, down the boulevard, cross over into the cemetery, make a left, past the First Reformed Church and then we arrive at the corner of the turnpike and Jackson Avenue where, for the past two months, a construction crew is building a bank. Each day there is progress: the leveling of the ground, the foundation, the walls. Each day we see men in hardhats. We see huge yellow equipment rumbling back and forth. We watch concrete poured, glass installed.

Do we thank laborers for their talent?

I know these men are being paid for their labor, but are they praised for their craftsmanship? The bricks are perfectly straight. The windows fit. I am tempted to step onto the construction site and say to a man with a trowel, “Can I try that?” To see the way he dips the tool into a vat of cement, to watch the way he applies the cement to the growing wall is like watching someone decorate a cake with a steady, confident hand. Such talent.

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When I go clothes shopping, I like reading the labels: Made in Thailand. Made in Vietnam. Made in China. Made in Malaysia. But who are the people who sit all day at a sewing machine and stitch sleeves to the shirt I am about the buy? Who are the people who maintain the equipment and keep it in working order? Is the man cutting the cloth rewarded with praise and gratitude? Is the woman leaning over her stitches and needles thanked for her dexterity and skill?

When I look at the tombstones in the cemetery, I am reminded that someone chopped a block of granite out of the earth, polished the stone, engraved someone’s name. The tombstones are so beautifully crafted. The Dutch Reform Church I pass, who built that church? Who designed the steeple? How did they manage to carve the front door?

Remember the silent, everyday labor

My brother-in-law, a professor of engineering at Leigh University, told me once to remember that every man-made object was designed and built by someone.

Not all disabilities are obvious: My depression caused me to miss work. It’s a real, relentless mental health condition.

Labor Day is a day to remember the silent, everyday labor that we do not celebrate. My new roof, recently installed. The books on my desk. The carpet under my feet. The glass in the windows. Someone created these things. I wish I could express my admiration to the person who runs the book-making machines. I wish I could thank the person who designed my carpet. I did thank the roofer for his work and offered him a glass of ice tea.

In the State of the Union address on Dec. 3, 1861, Abraham Lincoln said,  “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Let’s remember to give labor high consideration today as we eat our hamburgers and drink our beer.

Christopher de Vinck’s first novel, “Ashes,” will be published by HaperCollins-Inspire next spring. He is also the author of “The Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of Love” (Crossroad Books).

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