Text: Exodus 5; Jeremiah 29:4-7
Police found Maria Fernandes dead in her car on Monday night, parked in a convenience-store parking lot in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The 32-year-old Fernandes was trying to catch a few hours of sleep between jobs. She was wearing her Dunkin’ Donuts uniform when police found her. A friend and fellow employees told officials that Maria worked as many as four jobs trying to make a living. It came to light this week that Maria was working at four different Dunkin’ Donuts franchises and that the owners didn’t know she was working at multiple restaurants. She worked as little as 10 hours a week at one franchise and as many as 40 hours a week at another—all to make a living wage. Maria died from gas fumes in her car. Investigators found that fumes in her car were caused by a gasoline container that had spilled in the back. Friends told police that she kept a gas container in her car to avoid running out of gas when traveling between jobs, and that she often slept in parking lots to get a few hours of rest between jobs.
Maria’s death is a chilling reminder of the struggle low-wage workers and day laborers face today making ends meet, especially women. One journalist writes: “Frenandes’ death is one of many recent examples of the extreme lengths to which low-income women must go to make a living these days. Shanesha Taylor was charged with felony child abuse in March after she left her two children in the car while she went on a job interview. Debra Harrell was arrested in July after leaving her 9-year-old daughter to play in a park alone while she worked at McDonald’s. Jannette Navarro told The New York Times of the difficulty of her erratic schedule at her $9-per-hour job at Starbucks, which prompted the company to change its scheduling policy.” But it’s not just women who are struggling to find work that pays them a living wage today. In our city and in cities all across our nation women and men of all ages are looking for work that not only pays a living wage but adds purpose and meaning; respect and dignity to their lives.
William Faulkner once observed, “You can’t eat for eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours a day—all you can do for eight hours is work.” For those of you who want to take issue with Faulkner, and I know you are out there, just email me this week. But seriously, work is such a huge part of our lives—not only for monetary purposes but in the various ways that our work forms our identity and gives meaning to our living. In his 1972 book, Working, Studs Turkel describes the search of all people who work for a level of meaning in their employment that transcends the actual monetary compensation they may receive for it. It is a search, he writes, “for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor [apathy]; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
For so many in our society, it’s hard to hear someone talk about daily meaning in their work when the four jobs they are working doesn’t pay enough to buy the daily bread needed to feed their family. Or when their society calls them lazy because they are exhausted from going between low paying job to low paying job to low paying job and they finally decide to take one day off. Yes, the pharaohs are alive and well in our world today.