Usefulness Can Be Short-Lived

I’m not working Monday. It’s Labor Day. The irony of not working on Labor Day is not lost on me. Perhaps the holiday should more correctly be called Rest Day. Or No Labor Day. Or even, Why Are We Off Again Day.

I guess we deserve the day off. We work hard, but generations of people before us worked even harder. And even though they worked hard they still found time to form a movement that brought us all sorts of cool things like the weekend, overtime, elimination of child labor, and benefits.

Yeah, Labor Day’s cool.

Most of us will go back to work on Tuesday and not think about Labor Day again until next September. Whatever work we do is going to be there Tuesday, and it’ll probably be there the day after that, and the day after that. If we’re lucky the work we do will be around for a long time.

We like to be useful. Of course we like to make money, too, but we do all want to be useful.

In thinking about Labor Day, and how hard and long people work, I started thinking about those things whose period of usefulness is short. If humans had a period of usefulness as short as many of the things that came to mind, we’d feel rather insignificant.

Like the drink carrier, for instance. With six people in my family, when my wife and I go to the drive-thru at McDonald’s for the $1 large Diet Coke, we end up with half a dozen drinks. Inevitably when I pull up to the window the well-meaning soul has our drinks in a drink carrier.

I’m always quick to decline the carrier, simply take the drinks, pass them out, and hand the carrier back to the worker. What the hell am I supposed to do with a drink carrier? Its useful life is literally less than thirty seconds. Hold the drinks. Give up the drinks. Then what? Get thrown in the garbage? What a waste.

Paper towel. This is a big one. I understand the sanitary necessity of paper towel, and I use them in public places. I try to avoid them at home though, if at all possible. It just seems like such a waste, especially for drying purposes. Take the towel, dry your hands, throw it in the garbage. What a short life!

Instead of drying my hands with paper towel I frequently dry them on my pants, which drives me crazy, but I still do it. If I’m washing dishes I’ll dry my hands on my pants so many times that they’ll be soaked and then I’ll wonder how I got so wet. But at least I didn’t have to use paper towel.

2734471_27bb51f0cb_b2Most packaging has a ridiculously short useful span as well. Is there any item more discarded these days than the small brown Amazon.com box? Frequently that box doesn’t even make a pit stop in our house. We’ll get it from the front step, grab our stuff out of it, and open the backdoor to throw it in recycling right away.

The recycling part is good, I suppose, but still, I wonder if the box feels let down after finally reaching its destination and coming to the realization that its usefulness is complete. Probably not. I don’t think boxes have feelings.

I mentioned above that if humans had periods of usefulness as short as some items that we’d feel rather insignificant. But I think some of us do experience such a period of short usefulness.

Often we’re around to serve one purpose. When that purpose (making someone laugh, helping someone through a difficult time, doing someone’s dirty work, tasting their food to be sure they’re not being poisoned, etc.) is complete, our usefulness to the other person is often complete.

We have one advantage over the Amazon.com box though. We have feelings and brains, so we know that we were useful. Even though we’re not needed anymore, we served a purpose.

It can be a rude awakening to discover that we were only useful for a short period of time. But hey, just be glad you're not a drink carrier.

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