I was reading my assigned reading for history, and I kept thinking over and over again of a piece I had written 3 years ago. It was a very wandering piece, and in sore need of editing, so I won’t re-post the entire thing. But here is what I kept thinking of, with a little editing and re-arranging:
Nowadays, people don’t even know what they’re saying when they say “what do you do for a living?” They think they mean something like “what meaningful contribution do you make for society?” or “what do you do besides eat and sleep?”, but no one really means “what do you do, in order that you may live, and not die?”
Nowadays, people consider living not as a privilege or something earned, but as something they have a right to. They don’t believe in the “right to pursue happiness”, but the right to be happy—something they are owed, something they reasonably expect to have. . . They deserve it. It is only reasonable. It is what life should be like.
But [there is a] different world, a world of which I sit at the cusp. I can see into it, just as I can see into the world where people clamor for things they think they deserve even if they don’t pay for them.
I don’t provide food for my entire family from the labor of my own hands and the sweat of my own brow. But I’ve made enough meals, worked enough ground, gutted enough animals that I can taste the effort that goes into it. I can guess all too clearly what it is like, the quiet anxiety in the back of the mind as you put the garden in, that it will fail; it won’t produce enough. I know what it is to put away food in hopes of sustaining people in the winter. I know what it is to feed people who are exhausted in every fiber of their body. All too clearly I can feel the hopes of the women, weaving hoods as tight as they might—not out of pride, or amusement, or entertainment, but out of a strong urge to protect. The tighter they weave, the warmer and drier their loved ones will be. Every stroke, every effort, is not some meaningless occupation but provision and care for the men and children and elderly they love. Every action has behind it, driving it on, love for those who will be on the receiving end of those actions.
I can see, in bits in glimpses from my life, my imagination, things I’ve read, things I’ve seen. I can imagine spinning, spinning all the time, hands working independently of anything else. I can see people working together, laughing and coordinated, young with the old. I can see truly working for life.
But only in bits in glimpses.
Because I have yet to see it fail. I have held many children in my arms, but I’ve yet to lay one in the uncaring dirt, dead and no longer anything but an empty body. Sometimes, after reading disturbing things, I have actually dreamed of holding dead children, children I know and love. But I have never felt life stir within me, set my hands to spinning, and then weaving, and then sewing—and knowing with each inch of progress that this work will clothe my child. I have never put hundreds and hundreds of hours into the work of making a child’s clothing—clothing that is meant to carry the child on in life—and then, seeing it have no use but to carry the child in death to the ground.
You see the perfectly preserved clothing for a child, the child itself long gone, and you wonder what the cause was. Did it get too cold? Did it get sick? Did it starve? Did it have a freak accident?
And you know you are no better. If it was you, and your hands—nothing except your hands—could you have kept it from dying? Could you even have kept it alive for so long! Stupid mistakes are so fatal. They say the first person who tried to settle Greenland forgot to gather hay the first summer he was there; and naturally, the animals starved and the people were quick to follow, though I believe it said some were able to escape, to flee back to populated land. Could you learn quick enough, hard enough, fast enough to keep your loved ones alive? Or would you have to watch them die at your failing?
How hard, how hard to live each day as a struggle for life, but how much harder to struggle and fail.
Not, maybe, the most polished thing I have ever written, but somehow I always find it a continual surprise at how much quality my writing does seem to hold for me when I go back to it. Some how I always maintain in my mind that I’m not much of a writer, rather slap-dash and poorly thought out. . .but when I go back and revisit it, whether it be in old blogs, or saved word files or poorly scribbled missives to myself in lined spiral-bound notebooks, I am taken aback by how captivating I find my own writing. If that’s not narcissism, I don’t know what is! But it’s true. Sure, there’s a lot of chaff in my writing too, but sometimes I can’t believe how well I’ve captured an emotion, sometimes I can’t believe I wrote some thought so succinct and relevant. . .and typically I marvel to myself and yet don’t bother transcribe my chicken scratch from notebook to the digital screen where someone else might benefit from it.
In the future, I shall try to do a better job of reminding you all of my excellent writing qualities.
(Seriously, though, if a thing is properly written, it’s worth reading more than once.)