A brief encounter with an acquaintance who asked what I had been doing lately led me to recount in my mind what I had been doing since I graduated college and was truly on my own 23 years ago this month. Here's the recounting I came up with:
• Four years waiting to join or being on active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard;
• 33 years as a newspaper editor at three newspapers (not counting summer jobs and brief assignments or consultations with other newspapers);
• One year unemployed after being laid off from a newspaper job I'd held for 29 years;
• Almost three years with the American Red Cross;
• Almost two years with Habitat for Humanity.
The total comes to 43 years of my working life. You can add to that two summers as an intern at two newspapers, a year as a college resident adviser, four years (plus one summer session) as a full-time student; half a summer as a part-time college laboratory aide; half a summer as a concrete plant laborer; a summer as a textile mill laborer/go-fer; a summer as an automobile parts warehouse supply clerk; department store sales clerk for several months; more part-time work as a department store sales clerk; less than a year as a 17-year-old school bus driver.
Add it all up, and you come up with the tally that the Social Security Administration provides, listing my total earnings for each year since 1964. Some of those total annual earnings are embarrassingly small; some are so large that I have trouble remembering that I made that much (part of it in an annual bonus). In the end, this recounting amounts to nothing, for I am not the sum total of my labor. I have worked to live (and to provide for my family); I have not lived to work.
This recounting reminds me of the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes:
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.