Each month has its own distinct flavor. July’s is that of The 4th of July, the day we celebrate Independence Day here in America. It may start early in the month with cookouts and fireworks and parades, but the aroma and flavor of it linger long after the taste of burgers on the grill, the sounds of brass bands, and the smoke from the rocket’s red glare fade. It really is a month long celebration of the spirit that founded America in 1776 and continues to make it great eleven score and eighteen years after.
And what is that spirit? Some would argue it is the spirit of the workers and laborers of our nation. I am inclined to agree. Here in the Midwest we take our tasks seriously. For most of us our vocation defines our lives and the lives of those who depend on us. The 4th of July was the first non-religious American Holiday. For a long time it embodied all the Holidays we have today. There was no Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Veteran’s Day. Before they existed all these special days-to-come were sorta rolled into one big Holiday, Independence Day.
The spirit of America, that of its workers, was imported like everything else during the infancy of the new nation, these United States. The Puritan work ethic is a concept in theology, sociology, economics, and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation. Today, I have friends from other parts of the country that refer to the Midwestern work ethic. It makes me feel proud to be a Midwesterner and affiliated with a concept recognized by others as uniquely from our region. They are talking about farmers in the field, metal workers in shops, stone-cutters in the quarries, shopkeepers in their stores, builders out on the job, waiters and support staff in restaurants, designers, factory workers, and so many more. People earning their living by putting in a good day’s work for a good day’s pay.
Here is a poem by Walt Whitman that is occasionally associated with Independence Day and celebrates the American worker. Written at a time the nation was a third of its current age, not even a century old, this poem underscores Whitman’s basic attitude toward America. It was part of his ideal of human life. The American nation has based its faith on the creativeness of labor, which Whitman glorifies in this poem.
“I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman, written 1860
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
Certainly no better picture could be painted with words about the importance of worthwhile work and each workers individual contribution to the big American chorus. We don’t have many wood-cutters these days and the boatman needs to be replaced by truckers in our land-locked counties, but it rings true even in our modern society. Whitman is, of course, talking about all workers and in our era that would include computer programmers and therapists and car salespeople and so on. Be mindful of them all along with our great nation as you continue your summertime routines and feel the lingering pleasures of Independence Day. Happy Birthday USA!
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