“Happy Labor Day, Mom!” was how Corban greeted me this morning. He asked us last night what Labor Day was all about, and we proceeded to explain how the day was intended as a day off for working folks. He lost interest before we could get to the part about trade and labor organizations.
Nowadays, Labor Day seems much more a marker of the end of summer, even though many schools in the area have already begun. Sunday service yesterday was down with many trying to get a final long-weekend trip in somewhere. The public pool closes today. The days have been hot, but the evenings have a touch of cool fall weather. The summer garden once lush with tomatoes is slowing down as I wait for the last few to ripen and for the early fall harvest to begin.
But it struck me that as I sheepishly asked my husband if he would be interested in spending Labor Day morning cleaning out the garage that I so often forget that work – whether it be the paid sort or not – is a gift from God. Yes, the fall messed things up quite a bit, but nonetheless, the work of creating and rest from that work is a rhythm and a gift God established for us at the dawn of earth’s time. I was grateful for my husband’s enthusiasm in joining me for a bit of work on a day set aside for rest. We cleaned out the garage, set aside a few things for a hypothetical garage sale, and delighted as we found refreshment in our work.
Growing up as a child of immigrants, work was not viewed as a gift but as a necessary means to an end. Without work there was no food, no electricity, no phone, no apartment. More work meant more money to get us closer to where we wanted to be, which was not where we were. There was a sense of anticipation of what achieving the American Dream could bring, but there was also a hint of futility that no matter how hard my parents worked there would never be enough to give them what they were hoping for us.
Many of my Asian American peers walk in this tension with me. We remember not having enough, but boy are we enjoying living in plenty. We are deeply grateful for the sacrifices our parents’ generation made in order to give us the opportunities they did not. My father was a busboy, worked multiple shifts, accepted a rewired lamp from our building super to light the room and a bike to ride to work, bought cheeseburgers for me and my sister as a special treat. It was no wonder he cried at my college graduation party, and it is no wonder that he and my mother can’t believe at our wastefulness and comparatively carefree spending. As the beneficiaries to the past generation’s sacrifices I see so many of us continue to pursue the American Dream but much more for ourselves, I am afraid. And before I am accused of throwing rocks at glass houses (or whatever that phrase is), I am the first to admit that I enjoy a cushy life. My children most likely will enjoy a similar lifestyle unless they intentionally choose otherwise or there is a failure to launch. I make choices and some sacrifices for my children, but nothing like what my parents had to do.
I don’t think my consumer mentality is linked to my Asian American DNA, but I do think there is a link. Hearing my grandmother tell me that how I do academically and how I present myself will prove to “Americans” that I am just as good or even better than they are at their own game – whatever that game may in the end prove to be – is now a part of me, whispers knit into my bones.
So on this Labor Day I sit here waiting for my parents to arrive, wondering how my life’s work will be more intentionally for God’s Kingdom come, and for God’s work to be done on earth as it is in heaven.