Being without work can remind us why having work is so precious.
I was able to get a six-week job doing address canvassing for the Census Bureau. Last week, during training, some of the people in my group started complaining about the inadequacies of the training manual and the arbitrary way the government agency that hired us seemed to make decisions.
After listening to the whining for five minutes, the woman sitting next to me – a single mom with three kids who was trying to make ends meet – blurted out, “There are millions of people right now who would love to have this job, and here you are complaining.”
During summer vacations as a college student, I worked in a huge aluminum goods factory. I also worked as a dockhand lifting hundred-pound bags all day at a wholesale feed mill and on a section crew with the Soo Line Railroad. Universally, the older guys I worked with would tell me to finish college so I wouldn’t have to languish in “a job like this.”
Comments like that encouraged me to expect that the work I would eventually do should be fulfilling. You know, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and all of that. You shouldn’t have to work just to make a living. Your work should be fulfilling, part of a meaningful life.
Now, I’ve been blessed to have meaningful work in my life – as a teacher, a pastor and now a writer for this newspaper. My work has always included tasks which I dislike and people who have been less than pleasant, but on the whole what I’ve done for a living has been rewarding and fulfilling.
Yet, this middle aged woman sitting next to me at the training session last week made me realize that I was not only privileged but also spoiled. “There are millions of people right now who would love to have this job,” she said.
Her comment hit me hard. I was lucky to have this job, any job. Disability payments from the government are enough to keep me from being homeless, to pay the bills, as they say. But this month-and-a-half job with the Census Bureau will give me enough money to go to Thailand this year with our mission group and to help my adult children with their finances every once in awhile. The job won’t be inherently fulfilling, but I’m lucky to have it.
One of the phrases we often heard during our Census Bureau training was “subject to change.” Our teacher would often apologetically say things like, “What I told you about filling out your time sheets on paper yesterday has been changed. I got a memo last night that we are to complete them on our handheld computers, so we have to re-enter all of yesterday’s data.” Hearing everyone’s groan, he would add, “I told you yesterday that everything is subject to change.”
That, of course, is true not only for the United States government. It’s true for life. Subject to change. Like Chicago weather, life often does not cooperate with our plans. It is what it is.
I still hope for meaningful work. When the recession is over and businesses start spending more money on advertising, I hope to get more writing assignments from my editor at the Review.
In the meantime, thanks to a divorcee who lives in Elmhurst, I’m grateful to have this short term job verifying addresses for the census next year.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.