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To be of use

Yesterday, I spoke with a frustrated parent. Our little school thrived because parents contributed in meaningful ways to their children’s education. This parent said she was felt like an unpaid employee whose efforts were no longer valued. Now, she could have been just being nice, but she told me she felt welcomed and appreciated in my classroom.

When we ask people, of all ages, to do something they should feel welcomed and worthy of the effort they give. Marge Piercy wrote about this human need to do real work. We find purpose, worth, and identity in our calling. Voice and vocation come from the same etymological roots. We find voice in the work that chooses us. Real work calls us and makes us whole.

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 stand in the line and haul in their places,
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.

About ivonprefontaine

I have been an educator for almost 20 years. Prior to that, I worked in private industry for 15 years, then returned to university to earn my education degree. For the past 11 years, I have been a co-creator of learning in a unique, progressive, alternative educational school of choice. Currently, I am engaged in a doctoral program at Gonzaga University in Spokane. A main theme in my learning there has been the roles of systems thinking, complexity theory, and organizational theory, and how they apply to education generally and the learning environment I share with students, parents, and colleagues.

6 responses »

  1. Very nice post.
    “The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.”

    Good reminder and well stated.

    Reply
  2. We all seek to be needed, to be useful.
    My father-in-law died last year aged 96. Even at that great age, what he dreaded most of all was to be useless.

    Reply
    • It is probably the hardest thing in growing old. My 88-year old mother speaks frequently about feeling diminished as she cannot do what she used to.

      Reply
      • I’m sure you’re right – particularly for a generation that knew hardships and managed to do so much for so many in spite of being busy. I’m not sure computer generations will feel the same way – we’re all much more used to wasting time!!

  3. Part of feeling valued is being acknowledged.

    Reply

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