As I finished setting up my PowerPoint at a national convention near Washington, DC, a man passed in the hall, and paused. When he came into the room, I saw he wore the name of the hotel/conference center on his shirt. He worked for the banquet facilities.

He smiled. ”Good mornin’ Ma’am.What is it that you are speaking on here?”

The deep blue Bridges Out of Poverty book cover loomed large on the screen behind me. I said “Good Morning. Reducing poverty is my topic.”

“We got lots of that here,” he said. I replied that we have it most everywhere. We talked and he asked where I lived.I told him South Carolina.

“I knew it! I could tell there was just something good about you!” he cried out.

He said he was from Beaufort. I mentioned that Beaufort is so beautiful, why would he leave such a place? He said he came to DC for the work. I said there is work here, but a high cost of living. Following a long sigh, he said that he missed South Carolina. What he asked next knocked me off my strapless high heels.

“Do you do much fishin’ and huntin’ down there?”

Do I what??? I am vegan hear me roar!!!

Here I am, a woman dressed to the nines with fashionable shoes that are already hurting my feet, preparing to speak at a national conference, and I’m being asked if I’ve done much hunting lately.

“No, I travel quite a bit,” I managed to sputter,

He started talking about the good days of fishing and hunting in South Carolina. As he spoke, I wondered: what is it this man saw when he looked at me? He’s a hard worker, a laborer. He takes down heavy tables, and sets up multitudes of heavy chairs. Did he see what I truly am? The daughter of a laborer?

Or was it that I made eye contact with him as he walked by?Was it that he saw someone who sees him, rather than looks beyond him? I hoped so. One of the great perks of working with Bridges concepts is that it reframes how we interact; we see one another with respect.

This interaction made me think about Labor Day and a tribute to my “heroes”. My nephew, Joseph Messing, is a singer/songwriter and health professional in Chicago. He wrote the song My Heroes about our family. The refrain is a heated outcry of heartfelt high notes and Springsteen-esque melodies…

My Heroes by Joseph Messing*

“I come from hard hands
Forged by sweat and steel
Down in Detroit land that’s the way that everything feels
So when you look at me, trying to figure out what it is you think you see
Take a look into my eyes and you’ll know

”My heroes… come and go in the night
My heroes’… yoke is a heavy cross
My heroes…worked their whole damn lives
in the factories and brickyards
Behind one row plows
While the sweat of their brows came tumbling to the ground
With no choice in and sure as hell no way out.
I can’t take this any more I will not be labor’s whore…
And become my heroes.”

”Joey!” I cried when I first heard him sing it. “You’ll not be labor’s what?“My father was not that!

He explained that he honored the memory, the hard work of my father, of his father, of his grandfather and ancestors who came to America and labored and let us climb their backs to a better world.But he was angry that this legacy would be passed along to him.

“Aunt Terie, it is different for me.Getting an education was my fight.In college, I struggled to pay the bills, to survive. I might have sold out for a labor job.But I couldn’t go there.”

His grandfather would have wanted Joe to reach beyond the labor jobs that limited his own choices.His grandfather labored because he had no other choice.Joe did.

Joe and his siblings hung on to the dream.They are fighting through the hard work of education – an education out of reach for those who came before us.

Yet it is not only about choices and hard work. Let’s remember that a quality education continues to be out of reach for some, even now, in America.

I can still see my Dad in his Barco-lounger, having Labor Day off and glued to the TV watching major league baseball – asleep. Some of today’s employees do not have a Labor Day holiday. Many in the service sector are working while others enjoy the day.They are stocking shelves, working the cash register, sweeping floors at a fast food restaurant, cleaning your hotel room. The work is hard. And the political and economic realities that supported the hard work of the past have changed. Many Americans who would once have represented the “working class” have landed among the ever-scrambling “working poor”.

This Labor Day, take a second look at the person at the cash register when you run into the grocery store to get one more pack of hot dogs for your cookout.Say thank you.This person could be someone’s hero.


*Copyright Joseph Messing