Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Memory

On Labor Day, particularly on a perfect blue sky day like today, I think back to Labor Day sermons at the Unitarian Church on Nantucket. In the 1980's, late August was family time on the island. There were sand castles, walks to the Sweet Shoppe, flashlight tag among the hawthorns and poison ivy, lots of cookouts and always, a special anniversary celebration. But the end of vacation and signal for the return to school and work, was that Labor Day sermon by Ted Anderson. Always on the same topic, the sermon pursued different perspectives, from celebrating the work ethic to the roots of unionism. With his sonorous voice filling the church, Ted would draw connections between the hard working Puritans and the way the labor movement promised, and provided, a better life for workers over a hundred years ago. He reminded us exactly how we got paid vacations, sick leave, and work place safety, always coming back to the virtues of work.

One particular Sunday he added a dimension that has always stuck with me. Reflecting on the diminished impact of the labor movement, and the growth of the knowledge worker, he took us back to the twelfth or thirteenth century, and the religious verb, profess - to take a vow or to affirm. From there he traced the path of professing, from religion to medicine, law, engineering and, as I heard it, architecture. The vow of professing denotes a societal commitment; hence the noun, professional, implies the same commitment, as related to health, safety and public welfare. As I reflect this Labor Day, I'm reminded by Ted Anderson to appreciate what the labor movement created over one hundred years ago and to reaffirm what I now profess.

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