Every morning when I sit behind my desk, hunching over my laptop computer, behind a stack of books and paper which undoubtedly includes a sheet of paper with a long to-do list, I thank God that I can do what I love, though it is often overwhelming. Every time the phone rings and at the other end is someone that needs to talk, needs help with something, or needs to reconfirm a meeting I thank God for the opportunity to serve them in that manner. And late Saturday night, as I am putting the finishing touches on Sunday morning’s sermon, I am glad to say that I love my job.
There are many other reasons I love my job--I get to meet really incredible people, I get to hold a dying persons hand and five minutes later hold a new born baby. The road to get here was not easy. As a child I was diagnosed with a learning disability and if it was not for good, dedicated teachers, a school psychologist, and two dedicated parents I would not have graduated from high school. When I got to high school, if it had not been for dedicated teachers I would not have had the opportunity to explore areas of interest, like Maine politics, music, and geography; among the plethora of other mandatory courses like Algebra, Chemistry, and Biology. If it was not for hardworking, dedicated, unionized teachers I would not have had the opportunity to receive a Bachelor of Arts from one of our state’s fine public universities. Further, if it was not for the hard working, dedicated professors at that public university I would not of have the opportunity to sit where I do today, working in a profession I love.
There is more to the story, though. I am the son of a man who grew up in a potato farming family in Aroostook county and a woman who grew up the daughter of a unionized railroad engineer. My mother and father instilled the value of hard work at a young age. When my father’s potato house burned to the ground in the mid-1980’s we moved from the tiny northern Maine town to southern Maine, where my father was able to procure a union job at a local company. I remember, as a child, watching him work long, arduous hours. To say he loved every position he held at that institution would be exaggerating. I am sure if I were to ask him he would not waist anytime identifying at least one position he disliked in the 20 years he worked for that company.
Today, both of my parents work in a factory. Both of them, like many of the people of the state of Maine, work hard and depend on certain rights that were won after long, hard fights throughout history. The story of how those rights came to be is a powerful one and one that is as important as the story of the woman at the well in the Gospel of John or the story of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke; because, the story is ours. It is a story of strikes, marches, and people willing to risk everything to gain very little. It is a story of women’s right to vote, to work, to be paid a wage equal to their male counterparts. It is a story of Franco-American factory workers finding solidarity and standing up for better working conditions in the mills of Lewiston-Auburn. It is the story of a woman, who became the first woman to hold a senior cabinet position in the United States, another woman who later became the first woman to serve in the United States Congress.
The recent removal of the mural that once hung in the Department of Labor offices is more than a Governor over reaching the power of his office to exploit Maine people, or offering ill-taste in redecorating a public office, it is an attempt to erase our story--the story of teachers, steel-workers, fire-people, police officers, and so many other public servants on whose back this great state has grown. It is an attempt to erase the story of so many students who have struggled and of good teachers who were there to encourage, give tools to succeed, and to open doorways that some never knew existed.
My forth grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson, showed me that I could do anything if I set my mind to it, which was often a difficult lesson learned. Her strict manner left little room to waste time. She also taught me, whether she realized it or not, to recognize the urgency in some matters, that hard work is a blessing, and that you should never give up. The people of the state of Maine are at a cross-road: we either compromise our scruples and unconcernedly accept a tyrannical erasing of our story and exploitation of all we have, or we stand up for what is good and right, holding on to our story as hard-working, independent Mainers.
It would not be appropriate for me to jump on my soapbox without, of course, offering some sort of biblical citation with which to arm all readers of this, my humble opinion. If you attend a church or make a habit of reading the revised common lectionary the readings for the last two weeks and the next few weeks highlight the importance of looking at where we have come from to determine where it is God is calling us to go. The Samaritan Woman at the well, in John 4:5-42, not only is asked to analyze where she had come from, but to go back to where she came from before following Jesus’ teachings. If we are to effectively progress, we must be reminded of where we came from, from time to time. The mural that once hung in the office of the Department of Labor was, no is, a reminder of our past and in being so, is a celebration of what we can once again accomplish.