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A Reflection on Labor

2020 seems to be a year of turmoil, chaos, and catastrophe, but in many ways, it has also highlighted for us some of the deeper truths of life.  The value of family and friendships in a time of crisis.  The need for strengthening community relationships amidst a health crisis that makes it all too easy to build walls of separation and isolation. 

Unemployment rates have skyrocketed.  Businesses have been forced to close their doors, some permanently and some temporarily.  Families have had to live in separation and isolation.  Hope in the future seems to be at times quite elusive. 

Yet that glimmer of hope is not all together gone.  True it is fleeting.  True it may be obscured by a cloud of fear, despair, and anxiety but I’m always encouraged by the following verse in the book of Romans “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…”

Isn’t that so true!  It doesn’t matter your nation, creed, religion, whether you live in a big city or a small town our experiences tell us that enduring suffering builds character and the resolve, determination, and deeper introspection into ourselves that result from the process gives us that glimmer of hope for the future. 

As we celebrate “Labor Day” it is a good time to remember the intrinsic value of a day’s work.  Whether at home, at the office, or in the field, our labor forms a major part of our lives.  With high rates of unemployment across the country the economic value of a days’ work is easier to see with renewed gratitude.  But beyond the economic value of work is the dignity of work.  To be able to collectively create something beautiful is one of the favorite parts of my job.  To share life with others, to work together to achieve a common goal, to end a day tired but with the joy and sense of accomplishment. 

I know I am not alone in witnessing the depression and despair that often accompany months of isolation.  I have seen employees come back to work and on that first day back sigh with relief that “it feels good to be back”.  Our labor can give us a renewed since of purpose and self-worth and strengthen us in our daily life. 

It was very sad to see during the past several months the number of people who came in looking for an application (not to be confused with looking for work) only to satisfy the requirements for receiving “unemployment benefits”.  For my grandparents and those of their generation who lived through the great depression this concept is quite foreign.  Perhaps the changes to our society this year will bring about a new reflection of the deeper significance of work and labor. 

I will close with a final reflection.  As many of you know we lost a dear employee to a traffic accident in August.  Heather was only 25 and worked at the mill part-time while also taking care of her 2-year old daughter. 

In March when COVID-19 hit, our production slowed to a crawl and we were scrambling to find ways to keep the doors open and keep people employed.  Heather came to me and told me she knew it was a tough time for the company and she had figured out down to the hour the minimum amount of work she needed to pay for rent and some utilities and how she would be able to use the local food bank to help on that end.  It was reminiscent of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” when during a run on the bank at the start of the great depression the sweet Mrs. Davis asks for only $17.50 to get her through the tough times ahead amidst others who were demanding all of their savings be returned.  Heather could have felt entitled to a bailout or entitled to making more on unemployment than she could coming in to work but instead she exemplified a deeper character, no doubt built upon endurance through suffering, and it gave her a contagious hope for the future and the future of her daughter. 

Have a great Labor Day! 

Ben

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Emily September 07, 2020

As i work on knitting Sky Ladders, i am reflecting on the past 6 months. We are climbing out of one not so good time and looking to the new times coming up. Years ago i read : as we climb the ladder, we only go round by round until we reach the top. Hugs to the entire staff.

Amy J September 09, 2020

Thank you for your beautiful words about labor. It is necessary and important to feel useful and a part of something bigger than ourselves. As I keep Heather’s family in thoughts and prayers I hope you will save the words you shared about her character and kindness. Her young daughter deserves to know her mother, even if only through others’ memories.

Mary K. September 25, 2020

Thanks for your beautiful, inspiring message.

Susan in PDX September 25, 2020

I, too, resonated with your thoughts on the Romans verse. This is a time to reflect, to be grateful for all the blessings we have still got and for thinking about how we really want to ‘reset’ once we can reenter life in community again.

There is one other thought I’d encourage you to consider when thinking about the motivations of those you think are happy living on unemployment benefits. Do you like receiving benefits you haven’t earned? I’ll bet the answer is a resounding NO! We humans are wired to find meaning and fulfillment in work, and the idea that people don’t want to work is just not supported by loads of research. It’s a bias handed down from European aristocracy to justify their mistreatment of the poor. Look it up. Maybe there are other reasons (COVD-19, kids at home needing schooling, etc) that people are needing to be actively not finding work while they are looking for work. Our unemployment system is really unhelpful to both employers and the unemployed. I hope somebody wants to look into fixing that one day. We can do better.

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