Real Life and Work: Shedding the Substitutes

The other night Baby Ray and I sat alone at Bluestem Bistro, just in case any ladies showed up for Mosaic’s coffee night, a connection opportunity for adoptive and foster moms in our community.  Kyle and I started Mosaic of Manhattan because of our strong intuition that in the midst of life, people need people.  But in the space of life after Ray’s birth I grasped hard to fulfill my organizational duties by planning events, getting them on the calendar, sending emails.

Though the logistical side became my little pet, my waiting for people at a peopleless meeting pointed me to the reason for it all: life.  And the meeting was empty.  My stab at life came up empty.  Well, not entirely; there was Baby Ray, squirming in his wrap.  Ray cried in the coffee shop, and I found myself outside rocking him.  I couldn’t find any anger for him because rocking him is my purpose.  A friend happened to come by my table, and we connected over one commonality: we both had spent our morning glued to the blog posts we were writing while our children needed us, grew frustrated without our attention.  Life was happening, and I was stretching for more, more, more, as if  three noisy, beautiful-eyed boys weren’t enough.

So after the coffee shop — a ladies’ night where I was the only lady — I went home again and pondered over what the purpose of an organization is without people to organize.  It’s a grasping in the dark, really — grasping for more glamorous substitutes than the real people with real stories who sit on my couch.   People who don’t need more events.  I can send all the emails in the world, create a Mosaic logo, create a personal “Carrie Beyer” logo, for crying out loud, and never come up with an ounce of real connection.  My husband encouraged me to take a break from the computer for the evening.

In the aftermath, I peeled myself away from my Facebook account, permanently.  It sounds drastic, doesn’t it?  Why would I…?  I mean, Facebook?  (Apparently, Facebook thinks it’s drastic, too.  They don’t actually erase your account for another two weeks just in case you change your mind.)

I just couldn’t shake the image of my boys and how much they need me right now.  There’s barely enough of me to go around, and if I’m filling my time with cheap substitutes for real life, there most certainly isn’t enough.  Cloning may sound appealing, but until I am made superhuman, I only have one face.  I have one pair of eyes to lock with someone dear to me.  I have two arms for holding, one set of lips to press against another’s.  My brain cannot process the depth of everyone’s stories.  If I were to track all the lives of all the people I have ever known (read: Facebook), there would not be space in me to contain them.

But I have my strong husband to lie with at night.  I have two boys bursting with ideas and words and energy, and another who prefers to stay cuddled against my breasts.  In our open spaces in life, we swing wide our doors to new friends and old ones, while they widen our world with their stories.  And so I have to let substitutes go.  There is only me.  There is only here.  There is only now.

Me, here and now, is good.  (Me is good.  How do you like that for a sentence?)  Me, here and now, is a house in a college neighborhood, sidewalks adorned with chalk and newly fallen leaves.  It is shelves of books, but only one at a time.  It is blonde, black, and brown haired boys, superhero underwear, and pee-soaked diapers.  Me, here and now, is supper in our kitchen when we can; it is always dishes, always laundry, and always traversing the obstacle course of toys.

The routines of cooking, feeding, cleaning, talking, digging, swinging, and making love sustain our lives and bring health.  It is in stirring pancake batter with Ari that I fall deeply in love with him through warnings, laughter, and flour.  I watch Isaiah wield a plastic sword and claim his knighthood and am drawn to his boy-man courage.  And my breasts let down milk and out pours my heart all over Ray.

Listen to Wendell Berry’s words from his necessary cultural epistle The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture:

Connection is health.  And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is.  We lose our health—and create profitable diseases and dependences—by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.  In gardening, for instance, one works with the body to feed the body.  The work, if it is knowledgeable, makes for excellent food.  And it makes one hungry.  The work thus makes eating both nourishing and joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak.  This is health, wholeness, a source of delight.  And such a solution, unlike the typical industrial solution, does not cause new problems.

The ‘drudgery’ of growing one’s own food, then is not drudgery at all.  (If we make the growing of food a drudgery, which is what ‘agribusiness’ does make of it, then we also make a drudgery of eating and of living.)  It is—in addition to being the appropriate fulfillment of a practical need—a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.  This is what we learn from the hunting and farming rituals of tribal cultures.

As the connections have been broken by the fragmentation and isolation of work, they can be restored by restoring the wholeness of work.  There is work that is isolating, harsh, destructive, specialized or trivialized into meaninglessness.  And there is work that is restorative, convivial, dignified and dignifying, and pleasing.  Good work is not just the maintenance of connections—as one is not said to work ‘for a living’ or ‘to support a family’—but the enactment of connections.  It is living, and a way of living; it is not support for a family in the sense of an exterior brace or prop, but is one of the forms and acts of love.

So, drudgery: begone!  It exists, to be sure, but not in the hanging of laundry on the line and not in the jumble of forks and spoons in my dishwasher.  Work and sweat, people — elbows, toenails, and all — these are the ingredients of life, the very fabric of the heart, and the resurrectors of passion and purpose.

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    • carmen classen
    • October 24th, 2011

    Carrie, I’m so glad you are writing. I really really like this post and shed a few identifying tears as I read. Your heart is beautiful and challenging. Often, I feel alone and life mundane as I’m so closely tied to my kids, our home, and our everyday…but then I read tidbits like this (or interact with people face to face) and I’m refreshed with vision and purpose.

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