To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shadows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the clack 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 the 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.
by Marge Piercy
As the year meanders closer to Christmastime and to the New Year…I always spend a bit of time reflecting on my life as well as the life surrounding me. I wonder if God had really used me, if I had been a help in the world around me. When I was in college, I wrote a vision statement, which was part of my training to become a teacher. Then, while at Whitworth I read a book which I was given as part of the Murdock program. The authors wrote about Living Life on Purpose rather than just going through the motions not quite sure why. It connected with the very fabric of who I am. I want to know the reasons for why things are done a certain way. It’s important to know what compels. During my first year teaching, I struggled because I saw things and experienced things that were not compelling. There were so many obstacles that I questioned why I was teaching. God led me back to that vision statement I had written and revised each year for the previous four years. He led me to whittle it down to one sentence. So that I would be compelled. Again.
This poem resonates with me now, especially in Malawi, and particularly now, as the rain has just begun to fall. This is the time for planting. Even for most who live in the city of Lilongwe, they have gardens near, or far off in the villages of their birth. They go back each year and plant. By hand, and hoe, they dig deep, laying out rows across the red earth. Their hands and feet get muddy with the ground beneath them and their backs are covered in sweat from the hard work. Everywhere I look, I see people with purpose, who do this physical labor each year. They are providing food for their families and neighbors alike. This is a communal culture, which means that when someone is without, people share. Oftentimes people arrive at our gate in need of something, a bottle, some beans, a shovel… The Masina’s give. And we are learning better what it means to give. So when the planting begins, it is not just for me, it is for my community. Today, I actually planted a garden with Mr. Masina! He taught me how to make beds for the vegetables to reside in, lay the fertilizer, scatter the seeds, lightly cover them with soil, and add water. My hands and feet actually got red with dirt and my fingernails filled up with mud. I was happy to offer myself as a student, to learn from him how to jump into the work of my hands.
One’s vision and purpose, to be valid, does not need to be to save the world, it can simply be to provide and serve.