Standing in the Shade

The other day I came across this quote from billionaire Warren Buffet: “When you’re standing in the shade, it’s important to remember those who planted the trees.”

These are difficult times in our country; unemployment is high and the economic recovery the most anemic we’ve seen in over forty years. America’s workers have taken it on the chin and gridlock in Washington seems to preclude any quick or robust solution. I was thinking about all this as I read up on the history of Labor Day, the yearly tribute to the contributions of workers to our country’s vitality that began in a simpler time.

Historians aren’t certain who should get the credit for the idea, but many say it was Matthew Maguire secretary of a New Jersey labor union who first proposed a day set aside to honor workers back in 1182. The idea caught on, and the first Labor Day celebration took place on Sept 5, 1882 in New York City. A couple of years later, as the idea caught fire around the country and in 1894 Congress made Labor Day a legal holiday in DC and the territories. The day was marked by political speeches, parades, and festivals.


Today the original meaning is mostly lost; most of us think of Labor Day as summer’s last hurrah–one last long weekend at the beach or the mountains, one last gathering with friends and family before heading back to school and work for the fall. With the American worker in the worst straits in living memory, let’s pause to remember those women who worked 14 hour days in the Lowell, Mass textile mills, those men who risked life and limb building the railroads, extracting coal, gold, and silver from the bowels of the earth, constructing the highways and bridges we take for granted, building the cars and airplanes we depend upon every day.

The lifestyle we enjoy was built from the blood and sweat of machinists and carpenters, construction workers and deliverymen, bricklayers and farm workers. We owe them our thanks for the contributions of the past, and our support now and for the future.

I hope you had a great time this past weekend. I hope you spent it standing in the shade. And I hope you remembered those who went before us and planted the trees.