I’m about a week and a half into the resurrection of the ritual of writing my Morning Pages and I’m already feeling a shift. I’m getting used to getting up and, other than making the coffee, letting those three handwritten pages be the first thing I do. Those scribbles are starting to shake up my soul.
Something about waking up with a pen in my hand seems to set the prevailing themes of thought for the day. I woke up today realizing I had not spoken to my parents or my brother in several days and I found time to call them this afternoon. On a more profound level, I’ve felt a growing sense of restlessness in my job of late and this morning I woke with Paul’s words leaking out through my fingers:
“[F]or I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
The seed was planted last night when Ginger asked me if I was happy. When I said, “Yes,” she told me I didn’t always seem that way of late. And she’s right, yet the past few days have brought a shift. As a therapist told me long ago (and I have repeated here more than once, I’m sure), the only two things I can change in any given situation are what I do and say and how I feel. My control of the circumstances ends there. I was in a more observant place when I answered her question last night and followed her response by saying when I took time to remember who I get to spend my life with, my home, my friends, and the fact that I get to do something I love for a job, I think life is pretty good.
Two nights ago left me almost sleepless because I had brought home my frustration with me from work. The events of the day had left me feeling taken advantage of and I chose to pack my bitterness in a take out box rather than shake it off in the parking lot. The bleary-eyed morning pages that followed woke me to the realization that, rather than allow myself to feel victimized and bitter (as Cherry’s friend says, “Bitter is a flavor, not an emotion”), I need to speak up for myself (I’m working on that one) and I can chose how I want to feel at work. You see, part of the changes are I’ve been moved from cooking on the line to expediting the shift, which means I call the tickets and check the plates before they go out to the dining room. It also means I get to set the tone in the kitchen, for the most part.
I love the job.
We can talk about glorifying God through our work all we want, but if we’re not also serving our neighbor we are completely missing the point. We can’t love God without loving our neighbors. And loving our neighbors means showing mercy to them.
He also quoted a line from a Marge Piercy poem that is one of my favorites and worth including here.
To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
The real work of my life is in giving mercy: “a disposition to be kind and forgiving.” In the common tasks of the kitchen, I am called to contentment and compassion. I can’t do either one in my sleep. I have to be awake.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” Jesus said. Though my week has not necessarily borne that out, the real work of my life also entails leaning into those words as though they will come true, just as I must trust I am a vessel shaped to share love with those around me.
If I am going to be of use, I must remember every move matters: every cut of the knife, every spoon on a plate, every word from my mouth, every beat of my heart. If I am to be merciful, as I am called to be, I must be intentional. Compassion is not an accident. Neither, I suppose are bitterness or complacency.
The choice is mine.
P.S. – How could I not end with this piece? And I love that the guy is sitting in his kitchen.