Happy Labor Day!

It’s Labor Day, the day we slow down a bit in order to honor working men and women. Come what may, they’re the ones who put bread on our tables, send us to school, pay the doctor when we’re ill. This is far from the best of times for laboring people. In the United States, the recession has run roughshod over countless families costing them jobs, homes, savings and more. And there appears to be little hope that conditions will change any time soon.

But I would like to remind everyone that the contributions made to families and loved ones by the people who earn the money to support them is itself a kind of nurturing. It’s an expression of love.

To commemorate workers, I’d like to recall the Chilean 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground. Theirs is truly a story of heroism under the most difficult and terrifying of circumstances.

After the cave-in on Aug. 5, the 33 men were thought to be lost, until Chilean engineers found them 17 days later — all miraculously alive and unharmed.

As hope waned, a drill operator felt some vibrations. When a 150-pound drilling hammer was raised, it had red paint on it. Later, it came back with a bag tied to the drilling tube, said Laurence Golborne, the country”s mining minister. Inside were two letters: a three-page note from Mr. Gómez to his wife and a small note in red lettering.

“We are fine in the refuge, the 33,’ it read.

“I am thinking what to do with this; it”s incredible” said President Sebastián Piñera, as he pulled the note, protected in clear plastic, from his desk in the presidential palace. “I think this should go to a museum or a memorial,’ he added, calling the miners” unity “a very strong message for the whole country.’

A four-inch relief duct has been drilled so that they can now receive messages from loved ones, food, water, medical supplies and more. But before then, the miners were alone, almost half a mile down in stifling 90 degree heat. And they can look forward to some four more months down there.

But this article tells us that they’ve pulled themselves together and confronted their situation with organization and resolve (New York Times, 9/1/10).

“They are completely organized,’ said Dr. Jaime Mañalich, Chile”s health minister. “They have a full hierarchy. It is a matter of life and death for them.’

One man, Mario Gomez is their spiritual guide. He’s 62 and has endured disaster in the mines before. He’s helping the others get through their ordeal while helping psychologists on the surface communicate with the men in the pit.

Aside from Mr. Gómez, there is Luis Urzúa, the 54-year-old shift leader who organizes their work assignments, is helping to map the path of their rescue hole and even insists that the miners wait until everyone gets food through the narrow borehole to the surface before anyone can eat.

Then there is Yonny Barrios, 50, the group”s impromptu medical monitor. He is drawing on a six-month nursing course he took about 15 years ago to administer medicines and wellness tests that health officials are sending down through the four-inch borehole and then analyzing in a laboratory on the surface.

The men’s harrowing experience will not be over once the relief shaft gets to their level.

The miners will play a critical role in their own escape, making their organization and leadership essential, officials said. The men will need to clear 3,000 to 4,000 tons of rock that will fall as the rescue hole is cleared, officials said. The work will require the men to work in shifts 24 hours a day.

The type of courage, resiliency and discipline the men are displaying has so far awed all on the surface who are in communication with them. As for me, I’d like to simply place them in my thoughts on this Labor Day. It’ll be a long time before they ever see sunlight again. But their strength and their support of each other reminds us of what working people do every day, week after week, year after year. Their work supports them and their loved ones, usually without fanfare, but always with caring. The Chilean miners remind us that gainful employment not only pays the rent; it is also its own kind of love.

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