There is much talk in various media outlets about employment and the lack thereof in our country. I know of so many people who have struggled or are struggling with lack of employment or underemployment. I am also aware of those folks who are holding on mightily to jobs they either despise or are completely bored with. Most are hanging on for security or the health benefits the work provides. If they had a chance and their life circumstances were different they would quit, leave the paycheck and the benefits for something else, something they truly love to do or were trained to do.
Work is a complicated thing. Most of us, I believe, hear stories of people who are able to do work they really love and believe that somehow these people are the exception. We hear of folks who create art everyday or run a bed and breakfast in some fabulous setting and we think that somehow their life is easier than our own, that they are getting to live out some fairy tale existence. And they might be. My sense is that they have simply decided to do as Thomas Merton suggests, ‘allowed their gifts to meet the world’s great needs’ in their own way.
It seems to me that we all hope that the work we do will create some modicum of joy in our lives. We hope to make a difference. We hope to be remembered for what we have done. We hope to come to the end of the day feeling as if how we spent our hours is a good way to be spending our life.
On Tuesday I had the blessed experience of seeing someone whose work brings them great joy. Perched above the baseball diamond at Target Field, Sue Nelson sits on a tiny elevated stage in one of the many pubs that line the various levels of this beautiful facility. Her work? She is the organist who adds adornments of music to rouse the fans to cheer and shout for the action on the field. We all know that, this year, Sue has had her work cut out for her. But from all outward appearances Sue makes her music without one whit of worry about a team that is down in the dumps. Sue is there to make music, all the while talking to children and adults who stop by to watch her in action. She keeps one eye on the field in case a ‘Charge’ tune is needed or some little interlude might spice up the game. And she does it all with a huge smile!
When it game time for the seventh inning stretch people gathered around, Sue ramped up the volume, and she led us all in singing that ritual that allows a little levity and unity to even the most dismal game. As she bangs out ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, her already smiling face becomes a beam of sheer delight. She sings along and sways to her own music. It is a sight to behold. When asked how many times she has played this song, her reply? ” Well, I’ve done it for fourteen years. But sometimes I play it just because!”
Something tells me we all long for the joy that Sue experiences playing this simple, summer tune. We all hope to pour our very souls into the symphony of our own life’s work. We all wish that there might even be moments when we will break into the work for which we are paid ‘ just because.’
As we enter this Labor Day weekend in which we celebrate the ways we have honored and held sacred the work of our fellow life-traveling companions, my prayer is that those who have work might experience a small sampling of the kind of joy Sue has as she plays the organ. And for those who struggle to find work or are pulled down by the stress and weight of work that is soul-killing, may they find a place where their gifts meet the needs of this beautiful and complex world.
And for Sue……thank you for playing and lifting the spirits of us all.