When I was a boy, the nuns advised us on how to go about our work.
How you work, they told us, was like a little prayer.
Offer it up to God. Do the best you can, no matter how great or small the job, because it is a sacrifice to God.
The Lord is watching us. Give Him your best. That’s what makes work holy, they said. And so that is how we went about washing blackboards and cleaning erasers.
There was usually a reason why we were cleaning erasers and washing blackboards, and that reason had a lot do to with our behavior.
I had always thought the nuns were running that old Catholic guilt trip on us, but I know now they were trying to instill in us a sense of pride, a sense of dignity and a sense of purpose. And some truth, of course.
The idea is that all work has value and is important. Do it well.
The religious component is this: God is a worker. He created the universe, the world and all life in just six days of work. And then he rested on the seventh day.
And as God worked, so should we work.
It reminds me of a story I once read about Joe DiMaggio, who late the season in a game that didn’t matter, slapped a sure base hit into the outfield. But instead of settling for a single, Joe went all out to stretch it into a double, sliding hard into second base.
After the game, Joe was asked why he went all out in a game that really didn’t matter. Joe responded that there might be someone in the stands that day who never saw him play. He wanted his work ethic to always be on display, every time.
He must have been taught by nuns.
I bring all this up because of a story I read a couple week’s ago in the Tribune about Othea Loggan, who has worked as a busboy at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Wilmette for 54 years since he arrived in Chicago at the age of 18 in 1964.
The article is a fascinating look at a man who stayed at a job, commonly considered an entry-level job, for essentially his entire working life. He never sought a promotion to a manager’s position, and never considered taking another job that might provide more opportunity, more money or be closer to home.
In a way, it is a portrait of a lack of ambition, which the story makes clear. It is also the story of the inherent racism faced by blacks since 1964 when there were few opportunities for so-called meaningful work, let alone advancement for young black men.
It is also the story of an oddity in today’s world — a man who stayed at a job for 54 years when no one today stays at a job very long. Statistics show Americans typically change jobs every four years.
But Loggan stayed. And stayed.
And while the article makes Loggan’s dedication to his job very clear — all these years taking the long commute every day from the South Side to Wilmette, trudging through rain and snow and heat to be on the job every morning bussing tables — the quality of his work is passed over.
For most, this would be drudgery, an unsatisfying job. Perhaps too simple to do well.
Yet Loggan seems to do it with a singular dedication. It’s almost a religion to him, even though those words aren’t used. Loggan’s son comes close when he says: “But he got this job, he did it well, held on to it, and there needs to be a lot of respect for someone like that.”
Yes, there does need to be a lot of respect, because I know what the nuns taught me. Work well done is like a prayer. It can be something sacred. As the creator worked, so should we.
And I like to think that’s what Loggan is doing every day at Walker Bros.
So when you see him, thank him for a job well done. He is doing a job absolutely necessary for your comfort and satisfaction, and he is completely dedicated to it.
Give thanks for what can be sacred.
Paul Sassone is a freelance columnist.