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Down on the Farm: The Laborers

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It isn't in fashion to celebrate the virtues of those who work hard for a wage, but at one time it apparently was. Otherwise, we wouldn't have celebrated Labor Day this week.

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Let's forget for a moment the present day tendency to emphasize the virtues of wealth and fame.

Who are the people that do the hard work? Where would we be without them?

My favorite working heroes are nursing home employees. They address human suffering like few others in our midst. There's no need to go to Haiti to find suffering, although I admire those who do work in the Third World.

But if you're not one to travel and if you prefer your own bed and your own food every night, you can still roll up your sleeves and help the suffering by working or volunteering at the local nursing home.

Even the maintenance man at a nursing home can make a huge difference.

In our home town, Emil has been a walking ray of sunshine in the halls of Fair Meadow for over thirty years. In that time, I'll bet he's comforted more troubled souls than most ministers.

I mean, when your TV doesn't work and that's all you can really do anymore is watch TV, getting it to work again is an important mission!

Janitors are unsung heroes. They know the rhythms of a building. They know where the boiler is and how it works. And they get no credit whatsoever.

In particular, I am fond of the janitors who run our rest areas in Minnesota. I always try to find them and thank them for making our state look good.

Without exception, they are proud of their work. It isn't glamorous to pick cigarette butts out of the cracks in the concrete, but doesn't a squeaky clean rest area brighten a person's day?

Teachers are also my heroes. They get beat up all the time in the press. Three months off! Who wouldn't love that?

But until you stand in front of a class of rioting eighth graders and wonder how to teach them things they don't want to know, you don't understand the job of a teacher.

After trying that gig myself, I gave up. I simply didn't have the stuff.

But boy, am I glad that there are people willing to put out the energy to work with 180 kids per day, grade their papers, answer their questions and work to stir up their interest.

Because I am mechanically inept and choose to remain so, I admire those who can fix things. I value those who can put things back together, those who take the time to figure out how things work.

Computers, cars, dishwashers, water softeners, copiers: you can't fix them yourselves any more. You have to rely on experts. What would we do without people who take the time to learn the details?

We take doctors for granted because we figure they make so much money that it makes up for whatever stress they endure.

But I simply can't imagine what it would be like to be a brain surgeon who cuts into four people in a single morning with each of the patient's lives at stake.

How do you deal with the responsibility? How do you deal with the inevitable failures? How do you wind down at night?

If I goof up this column, nobody gets physically hurt. Not so with surgeons. I don't envy a single one of them, and I wouldn't do what they do for any amount of money.

There's no getting around it, laying concrete is back-breaking work. If you make a mistake, it is frozen in place forever. It's a little like surgery. Even that much responsibility would scare me off!

And finally, the one job I would never take under any circumstance: produce manager at a grocery store.

How do you keep the displays fresh and at the same time convince people to buy the fruits and vegetables closest to their expiration dates?

How can you stand to watch picky people ruin your displays as soon as you get them nice?

What does it feel like to throw away produce that is no longer viable?

I hurts me to toss the rotten lettuce from last month out of my fridge.

I can't imagine having to toss a crate of moldy peaches.

On Labor Day, I am especially thankful for the people who do what I can't imagine doing myself.

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