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Labor Day is a starting point. From now on, why don’t we continually celebrate working people in America, those who keep our country active, productive and safe?
One day is simply not adequate to celebrate work, which is here to stay, here to ensure our livelihood, here to give many people fulfillment, here to give our lives and our country purpose and momentum.
In 1860, Walt Whitman celebrates American workers in his famous poem, “I Hear America Singing.” Whitman mentioned workers of his day, people who contribute to the heart and soul of America.
Whitman uses “singing” as a metaphor for working as he praises the work of mechanics, carpenters, masons, boatmen, deckhands, shoemakers, hatters, woodcutters and ploughboys as they joyously contribute to the workforce.
He also mentions the work of mothers, young wives and girls as they provide child care and perform domestic tasks, both of which Whitman insinuates is just as important as public work.
The poem alludes to pride in the honest, hard work that makes positive contributions to the community.
If Whitman were still around, he would probably still celebrate work, workers and their joyous songs: medical workers, educators, first responders, factory workers, technology workers, pastors, sanitation workers, food service workers, construction workers, astronauts, communications workers, farmers, financial officers, entertainers and military personnel, to name just a few.
Whitman’s list of 19th-century workers and the above list of people in the contemporary workforce are essentially alike. They all keep the heart of society beating, and their efforts must not be taken lightly.
Where would a city be without the “song” of its sanitation department? How could a country survive without the “singing” of educators and first responders?
Whitman’s “singing” is metaphorical. What about literal songs that celebrate work?
Children learn work songs such as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “The Erie Canal” and “John Henry, the Steel-Driving Man.” Bruce Springsteen is famous for many songs about struggling working people, and Dolly Parton left us “Nine to Five.” Hundreds of other songs about work paint a picture of people who keep America going.
Our military workers sing songs, metaphorical and literal, constantly. Among the beloved songs of America are the official songs of the military branches, familiar songs that represent the work that protects the country. These songs stir patriotic feelings and also describe in some respect the work that the military does.
Picture military workers as you read these familiar first lines.
Army: “First to fight for the right, and to build the Nation’s might, And the Army goes rolling along.”
Navy: “Anchors Aweigh, my boys, Anchors Aweigh.”
Air Force: “Off we go into the wild blue yonder...”
Marines: “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli...”
U.S. Coast Guard: “From North and South and East and West, the Coast Guard’s in the fight.”
Merchant Marines: “Heave Ho, my lads, Heave ho.”
Let us all be mindful of workers every day; let us respect the honest work of all people and not take their effort for granted; let us celebrate Labor Day in some way every day and really celebrate on the first Monday in each September.
Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Whitman would say that most of us work at something, and he would be pleased to know that America is still “singing.”
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life. Email her a firstname.lastname@example.org.