SideLines: Maybe it’s time for an un-Labor Day

It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever gone through.

Twice in my adult life, I have been unemployed for extended periods of time. The first, not long after I got out of school, was for six months. The other, when I was much older, was almost two years. The first time, I was young and not sure what I wanted to do. The second time, I not only knew what I wanted to do, I was very comfortable doing it. Unfortunately, I got sick and had no choice.

Unless you’ve been unemployed, I really don’t think you can appreciate what it means to be without a job.

You look and look and can’t find anything. Either no one is hiring, or there’s nothing you’re qualified to do. I remember going through the want ads of the newspaper every day, combing every possibility over and over. You get so desperate you’d be surprised some of the things you consider.

After awhile, you dread the newspaper coming, just knowing there isn’t going to be anything. And yet you have to keep looking.

One of the worst things about being unemployed is not having someplace to go. If you’ve worked in the same place for any length of time, the surroundings became as familiar as your own home. Your coworkers become almost as important as family and friends. When you lose your job, you lose that camaraderie and that shared experience, whether it’s good or bad.

There is a sense of not being wanted or belonging anywhere. With all the businesses in the country, aren’t I good enough to do something, anything, for even one of them?

As the endless days dragged on, I began feeling guilty and self-conscious. I thought I detected unspoken questions in the eyes of those around me, like if they could find a job, why can’t I? Just how badly did I really want to work? Was I just lazy, collecting unemployment benefits?

Eventually, I got lucky. After applying to everyone and their brother – and sister – two women I had worked with years before gave me a chance with Shaw newspapers. That’s probably how a lot of people get hired. It’s how I got into the newspaper business in the first place so many editions ago.

With Labor Day coming up next week – the most overlooked of all national holidays – I wonder if it wouldn’t be appropriate to have a similar day for those who don’t have jobs, sort of an un-Labor Day. It wouldn’t be a holiday, of course, with a parade and fireworks, because there’s nothing to celebrate. Local firemen won’t go down streets collecting money for an incurable disease. Instead, maybe those of us who are fortunate enough to be working could take someone who doesn’t have a job out to lunch. (It wouldn’t have to be fancy, even fast food would do.) Not out of sympathy or charity, but out of empathy for what they’re going through.

To paraphrase Tom Cruise at the end of “Jerry McGuire,” this can be a cynical world sometimes. But instead of criticizing or judging, wouldn’t it be better to show a little compassion and understanding? Maybe in that small way we can help make the world a little better for someone who hasn’t felt that way in a long time and needs to be reminded of it.

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