Labor Day 2013
A national holiday like Labor Day conjures up all sorts of romantic "Americana" imagery.
I remember growing up as a boy and hearing the stories of my immigrant ancestors arriving in the New York City Harbor. I remember the tales of how they were welcomed by "Lady Liberty" holding up her torch of freedom - promising new opportunities in the land of "freedom and justice for all."
I remember growing up and believing in the promise of the "Great American Dream" - if you worked hard enough, everything would be possible in this land of boundless opportunity.
Yesterday, National Public Radio featured a "Labor Day" story about a New Jersey single-parent - the mother of three small children, who by any standard is a very hard worker. She is a clerk in a convenience store and works more than 10 hours a day (often working the "night-shift" of more than 10 hours). She earns the minimum wage of $7.35 per hour and receives no benefits - no medical insurance, and no pension package. She works very, very hard and yet this mom and her three kids are barely surviving.
In yesterday's interview, she lamented her son's many unattended medical challenges. She has to "save up" to get his prescriptions filled. She also told of how, especially in the time before she gets paid, she has to put the children to bed early because when you sleep you don't feel the hunger as much.
And yet, even with all her troubles, that young mom hasn't given up. In fact as she was being interviewed, she didn't slightly sound depressed - her voice actually sparkled with hope. What a wonderful example of a hard-working American, and what a challenge her story presents to every citizen of this country on this Labor Day, 2013.
I think about that young, hard-working mother on this Labor Day in America where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. On this Labor Day when so many citizens continue to voice their loud and strident protests against universal health care, I think about that mom and her son who goes without medicine because it isn't payday yet. On this Labor Day when citizens go to parks and beaches and feast on picnics at backyard barbecues, I think about those children in New Jersey who sometimes have to go to bed early so they won't feel the pangs of hunger.
For over 100 years, immigrants have entered the United States of America passing by a statue of Lady Liberty who has greeted them with this poem:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
May these words be more than a romantic dream on this Labor Day. May these words be on our lips and in our hearts as a vision for all we could be, and a challenge for all we yet might be.