Labor’s Day

September 7, 2009


When I was a kid, Labor Day was always a different kind of Holiday around my house.  My mom and dad took the day’s name literally and we Labored all Day.

I would be in my yard digging, weeding, or mowing while I watched my friends all pass by on their way to the lake, the river, or the movies to have some fun.  Countless times I tried to explain to my parents that other people were spending the day having fun and that the name of the holiday could be taken more figuratively.

It didn’t make any difference, and every year my brothers and sister continued laboring and our friends and their families continued celebrating the holiday the more traditional way.

What I didn’t realize until much later was that my parents really were treating the day like a holiday.  They weren’t using Labor Day to cheat us from opportunity; they were using the day to teach us how to work.  It didn’t matter that we were working on Labor Day (Ko, Cole and I are going to the pool today), what mattered was that my parents taught us how to work.

As I left home I began to see that this isn’t something every kid has the opportunity to understand.  I started to realize that all those days we spent doing chores, working in the yard, or cleaning the kitchen helped me to know the value of a hard days work—and that that understanding in itself was a precious commodity.

I learned that you could control your own destiny and build your own success if you know how to work.  Additionally, I found that all of the of the other things that can bring success that can’t be controlled directly though work (i.e. who you know, right place right time) can at least be influenced through a person’s willingness to be fully engaged.  I was taught that by working hard, I could make my own luck.

I was also taught to value the feeling that comes from knowing you put in a hard days work.

After my auto accident I spent literal years of my life lying in bed.  Interestingly, I found that during that time one of the tings that I missed most was that feeling of pleasure that comes no other way than from the knowledge that you gave your all.  That feeling you get after working all day, be it at your job, in the yard, around the house, and you finally sit down on the couch and you know that you put everything you had into the days objective.

I would have people come to visit me in the hospital complaining about their job, complaining about their work, and I would be so jealous that they had a place to put their day’s labors—that they had the opportunity to work.

I’m grateful my mom and dad taught me how to work.  It’s a commodity that is more and more becoming difficult to find and in short supply. I’m grateful for those difficult days in the hospital when I learned that it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to work hard.

This Labor Day (whether we are laboring or not) let’s remember that hard work is a blessing and that some of the greatest opportunities in our lives come from good old-fashioned hard work.


Wake-Up Call

October 6, 2008

In my work, I am required to do a lot of travel. I must say it sounds a lot “sexier” than it is. Mostly, it’s arriving late the night before an event and departing late the day after, and usually little more than airport-hotel-airport.

On one such arrival, after I had gone through the process of checking in, I was so tired I was aching for bed.  The hotel was a small hotel, and it was obvious that the gentleman at the front desk did everything from check-in to setting out the morning bagels, so I decided to ask for my wake-up call right there.

He agreed to my request, and as he began to get my information, he remarked how the hotel doesn’t get as many wake-up calls as they used to, and that people seem to prefer the alarm on their cell phone instead. As I thought about it, the same seemed true in my own experience. All the people I traveled with from my wife to my siblings to my aides preferred using the alarm on their mobile phone. I looked back at the attendant, who was quietly waiting seeming to hope that this information had caused me to change my mind and lighten his workload.  I told him that his information was interesting and, although he was probably right, I still wanted my wake-up call.

I like wake-up calls. They are my security blanket. I too use my cell phone’s alarm, but I always set a wake-up call to go off about 10 minutes after my alarm, just in case. That way, I can go to sleep knowing that I won’t wake up late due to some mistake I made or phone failure. Wake-up calls help me make sure I don’t sleep through the important things I can’t afford to miss. When I think the wake-up calls, I can’t help but remember a Saturday morning when one changed my life.

On this particular Saturday morning, I’ve been asked to speak to a group of children about how we are all different, and whether we have red hair or we don’t, are in a wheelchair or we aren’t, everyone is “O.K.”  As I got ready early that morning for the event it was obvious that it was going to be one of “those” days when everything seems to turn out far from “O.K.”

I failed at nearly everything I tried to do that morning, and the things I didn’t fail at still turned out badly.  My pants were all askew, I’d gotten toothpaste on my tie, breakfast turned out lousy, and on my way to the event I realized I had left the directions on my kitchen table. It was most assuredly a day where it didn’t feel like it was okay to be in a wheelchair, when it definitely did not feel okay to be “different”, and the last thing I wanted to was to go try and convince an hundred kids that it was.

But it was too late to cancel so I went. I remember thinking this was the last thing I needed that morning and hoped that I could just get in, get out, and move on.

Upon arrival, I introduced myself to the woman who had scheduled me for the event.   She proceeded to tell me they had brought three other individuals with disabilities to speak as well, so, instead of speaking to all kids at once, they were going to divide the children into four groups and rotate them through.

“Great,” I thought, “now I don’t just have to talk about how I have a great life in a wheelchair once, I’d have to do it four times.” This just quadrupled the amount of time I was going to have to be there that morning.

The meeting began with all of us in the same room. The children were given instructions and just before they were set loose, the woman in charge of the event had all of the children sing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” reminding everyone there about what a wonderful thing the body was. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I knew the song and so I sang with everyone else.

As I began to sing, out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the other speakers with a disability. He too was in a wheelchair, and from the way he sat in his chair, it seemed our disabilities were very similar. But what wasn’t similar, was the way he was throwing his arms all about. For the life of me, I could not figure out why a grown man would move around in such a way in public during the song. I remember thinking that he looked like he was conducting the music. The only problem was, he wasn’t facing the children, and that was definitely different.

Just as the next sarcastic remark began to form in my mind it hit me. He was deaf. Like me, he couldn’t move his hands and so he had had to come up with his own sign language. That was why his arms were moving about so. And what’s more, he was doing it all with a smile on his face.

Talk about a wake-up call. All of a sudden all those things that frustrated me so much that morning didn’t seem so big. In fact, they seemed quite small-petty even. He had so much less than I and yet his attitude was so much better. I never even spoke to the man and yet he taught me a lesson that I will never forget, and because of my poor attitude I nearly missed it. It is easy to get lulled to sleep in our lives, and if we stay that way we will miss the many lessons those great people around us have to teach.

We have to wake up and listen to the lives of those around us and let them teach us to be better the way this man taught me. Then, fully awake and fully aware each day a new person will teach us a new way to live happier. If we will look, we can find examples in books, on television, in our neighborhoods, and on our streets. And if we will see, we will learn to live with more gratitude and grace instead of complacency and complaint.

We need wake-up calls. They help us make sure we don’t sleep through the important things we can’t afford to miss.