In the United States, this long weekend is Labor Day Weekend, a time to honor those who, well, labor. In the United States, many people work extremely hard, and hats off to them for all that they do to keep this country running—the teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, librarians, shop workers, volunteers, those who work at home, the caregivers. I could go on and on and have left many out. For those at the very top who sponge so much out of society, I hope they appreciate the hard work that keeps them in place. (Snarky, I know, but appropriate for this time of widening inequality in the United States.)
Labor Day weekend is also a time when we bid a bittersweet farewell to summer. Yes, autumn is lovely, and there is much to look forward to, but barbecues and patio time are coming to an end.
Accordingly, we invited our friends Judy and Paul over for a barbecue on Saturday. Judy is a pie maker extraordinaire, and she brought over a raspberry pie for dessert. I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the pie because although I’m keen on all kinds of berries, raspberries are my favorite. As my 60th birthday is coming right up, I immediately proclaimed that this pie was a birthday pie. What then could Judy do but leave the leftovers with us? However, as she told me that she had two peach pies at home, I figured I was, in fact, doing Judy a favor by keeping the leftover raspberry pie. Or so I tell myself.
For the main meal we had potato salad made with sour cream and turkey bacon; chicken breasts marinated in a lemon, garlic, olive-oil mixture and brushed with a mustard sauce; and corn drizzled with brown butter. Farewell, farewell sweet summer.
Over dinner, one of the topics that came up was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. So many stories of brave, selfless people helping each other without regard for income, skin color, or ethnicity. Pets were rescued, too, which I found particularly cheering.
For the past week, I had been thinking about the heroism in Texas and about how people really do pull together during catastrophes. Now, if we could just do the same thing when there isn’t a catastrophe, in everyday life.
I mentioned this to Paul and Judy.
“Everyday life is hard,” Judy said.
So it is. Most of us can rise to the occasion and be our better selves during a flood or an ice storm or a tornado. But when things settle down, self interest, pettiness, and even greed too often kick in. While we all need to take care of ourselves and our families, it is very easy to cross the line to selfishness, begrudging others what we think we should have as a matter of course. In short, we have trouble being consistently decent to each other.
Decency, a humble concept, is hard work, something that must be continually applied not only to other people but also to how we treat animals, the earth, the water, the air.
Somehow, thinking about hard work and decency seems appropriate for Labor Day Weekend.