Somewhere along the line, I learned that a significant life is full of struggle. Did it start with the story of the exile from the Garden? The toil? The pain of labor? Did it start with my own father, who worked the night shift at the post office; and, around the dinner table, never made it sound like any fun? (Did he, as I do now, struggle with the guilt of having a job he secretly loved?) Did it start with my stay-at-home-mom, who I swear must have slept through the day, eaten her way through the afternoon, only to greet us at the door after school and begin cleaning the house and cooking? Did it start with the job I loved to hate as a Subway “Sandwich Artist,” scrubbing floors until 2am, so I could afford car insurance, college, clothes? Or did it start in AmeriCorps, where only those crazy-asses who worked 70 hours a week were promoted, and any expectation of decent pay was taboo? I was one of those crazy-asses, and it was less than a conscious choice- I somehow deeply believed that my ability to save the world must be directly proportional to my stress level.
Thankfully, I got pregnant, and when that happened, I realized that my ability to save anyone or anything was actually inversely proportional to my stress level; I had to calm down and raise this kid. I put everything else away. All of my work was him. And then it was her, when she came along. And I’ll admit, while fostering my own sense of contentment and love as the only truly important things in life, I’ve at times (consciously or subconsciously) made myself appear super-busy. Maybe so people would stop bugging me. Or maybe so I wouldn’t feel weird, or guilty.
For the past 5 years, I’ve been “contracting” my services. Or, more often, volunteering, and then sometimes- surprise!- I get paid for what I just volunteered to do. The only jobs I’ve taken are jobs I really care about- teaching conflict resolution, peace studies, yoga, nutrition, organizing events to build community and awareness…I do this on my terms. Because I want to.
My partner works a full time job he really loves. He doesn’t make much. We are not rich. In fact, we are definitely eligible for some community support ourselves. We don’t take it, but it’s not because I don’t think we deserve or need it. It’s because it’s fucking annoying to fill out all that paperwork, give every detail of your income and expenses, bank accounts, changes to your situation, over and over and over again, only to have them lose your paperwork, balk at your fluctuating changes in pay (as though people piece-mealing together an existence generally have one steady income), and take 2 hours to answer the damn phone. It’s not work I want to get paid for- not in food stamps, not in medical care- so I don’t take it. I find other ways. For other people, that may not be a choice, or maybe, it’s just less of a burden for them to work with the government in this way. I guarantee you, though, that most people on food stamps, even those “working the system” are actually doing quite a bit of work to make that happen. If you haven’t tried it, don’t judge. You seriously have no idea what it is like to navigate the system. I’ve managed entire service programs, directed camps, managed boards and commissions and parks and recreation on behalf of a councilman, set up service days for 500-1000 volunteers, and seriously, the System is harder. There is nothing I would less rather “work” at.
I spent the morning snuggling with my daughter, then learning guitar chords to a few songs. For an hour or two, I created a parent packet for a camp I’ll be directing this summer. I turned the dishwasher on. I am now writing this very thing at 2PM. Later, I guess I’ll grill some meat and make some salad. Take my niece and nephew to an appointment. Go work on an urban farm for an hour. This is my life. I am not stressed. I am not busy. Even with four kids in our home, 2 side jobs, and tedious foster care processes. I am forcing myself to admit it- life is just good. What I am busy with is being with my kids. I am busy creating peace in my own life, trying to make conscious choices. I’m busy staring off into space and thinking about things- philosophical things, sexual things, lunch things…I’m thinking about guitars with the finish worn off from the intensity of playing. Thinking about fiddle strings shredding under the bow, only to be speedily restrung before the next chorus. I am thinking about what I could do to make life more interesting, have some more fun.
Why is everyone so busy? Why is everyone working their ass off? Why do I feel guilty that I’m not?
And then I think to myself: Have I been taught to think they support us? Those people who run around so busy, so legitimate? Those people who struggle? Who sweat? Do I think they support me? Do I think they make the world turn, like some sort of hamster on an exercise wheel, while I just hang on to one of the rungs by my slack fist? Well, yes, that thought does lay underneath the surface. Yes, sometimes I guess I do feel a little guilty- that I like my life so much. That it’s not- more hard. That even though we’re in debt and don’t have much to our name, it doesn’t matter to me. That I like to play music more than I like to create excel documents. That I’d rather write a poem than a research paper. That my kids make their own breakfast and lunch, because I don’t think I should have to do that for them, and it’s not killing them. That I’m not even considering- gasp!- saving for their college education.
But I don’t feel entitled. I don’t think anyone should give us anything they don’t want to. I just believe that things will roll out alright. That life comes, and life ends, and we are here to take the ride. And it’s better if we try to like it, whatever it is. I believe that we all have a thing to do- maybe just one thing- and that we are all legitimate, significant people. And maybe most importantly, I believe we are not to let anyone convince us that we should be ashamed of living the life we love.