Happy Labor Day ……

David Parker Photography_BCosbyQuote

This weekend I ran into a local grocery store to grab dinner.  As I was winding my way through the salad bar, I looked up and saw a familiar face.  I couldn’t quite place the person but their face was instantly familiar.  It took about another minute before I realized it was a classmate from college.  Surprised and delighted that I had ran across the person, I began to walk up to them to say hello and stopped when a second realization hit me…..they were wearing an apron and a name tag.  I had automatically assumed that they were in the grocery store to grab some provisions before heading back home.  I never once thought and did the concept run across my mind that they actually worked at the store.

And for a moment, I felt embarrassed.  Not for myself but them.  I quickly gathered my items and made my way to the checkout line.  On my way home, I reflected on where things “went wrong” for this person.  Where did our Ivy League education fail them?  What happened to force them to work stocking shelves in a grocery store?  A million things were running through my head.  I continued ruminating as I sat and ate dinner thinking back on all the jobs I had, all the jobs my family has had and I felt sick.  Then I felt ashamed of myself for letting an elitist mentality pervade my thoughts.  I had fed into the hype that graduating from School X gave us special privilege.  That working with your hands was somehow below working at a desk.  In the end, I realized that it’s a job and there is dignity in all work.  The tiredness that comes from a hard day’s work is a badge of honor, whether it came from lifting boxes or crunching spreadsheets.  Making a living, taking care of your family and providing for yourself is nothing anyone should be ashamed of doing.  I was the one who should be ashamed……

So I went back to the store and asked if Person X was working today.  They said s/he was stocking shelves in the cereal aisle.  I walked over to the aisle, saw them working diligently and called their name.  They looked up and smiled, cocked their head to one side not recognizing who I was immediately and laughed a big laugh.  And laughed again when they gave me a super-sized bear hug.  And I cried.

They looked radiant.  Happy. Healthy.  Composed.  We briefly chatted and made plans to meet soon to catch up over coffee.  As we were saying our goodbyes, s/he looked at me and said point blank….”most of our classmates come into the store and avoid me.  They think something horrible happened that I am working here.  Wasn’t my plan but I can’t complain either because I feel good.  Thank you for saying hi and I can’t wait to catch up.”

In this few moments, I had learned what true dignity and grace looked like while standing in a grocery store.  So with that, I wish you a Happy Labor Day…..may you each find the dignity and grace in your professions and let it shine through your actions.

[photo credit: David Parker]

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4 thoughts on “Happy Labor Day ……

  1. Thank you for this post. I can relate to your classmate. I graduated from a well-known college, and ended up starting a family soon after. That was nearly twenty years ago, and I still can’t say I have ever had a “career”, other than stay-at-home mom. (Which is a really great gig, for the most part!) I’ve had few part-time jobs over the years, none of which pertained to my college degree.

    I sometimes get down on myself for not being more ambitious, and feel some embarrassment for for my lack of career accomplishments. My twenty-year class reunion is fast approaching, and I fear that often-asked question “So, what do you do?”. Who doesn’t want to have something interesting to say in response?

    I am hopeful that I will eventually find a personally gratifying job that makes me feel good. It will take effort on my part, and the confidence to make it happen, which I know is the key. Working on it!

  2. Pingback: Labor Day – The Need to Do Something | Winston Scrooge

  3. Wow – Your post has left me with tear in my eyes. It’s wonderful. The realisation you came to about what work is is great, but that’s marvelous is you had the guts to go back to the store and actively seek out your classmate, and I’m sure that made both of your days infinitely better.

  4. Hey Courtney, almost cried with your post ! It made me remember of my father, he studied just a little, but he works really, really hard. Sometimes people may think “hey, you should try a better job”, but you know what ? This is what he does for a living, he is a really reliable person, and even with no study, he thought me how to be a good person and why I should always think about people just like being my own brother and treat them how you would like to be treated. Tks for sharing your thoughts ! Have a great day !

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