Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why Work?

Did you ever ask someone to explain something they had just said, that made no sense to you, and they responded by repeating it word-for-word, only slower and louder?

“I still don’t get it,” I told him.

“The. Only. Thing. Wrong. With. Work,” he repeated with emphasis, “is that it’s WORK!”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “What’s bad about work?”

The answer was, of course, that it’s work.

When I was a child, Daddy went to work every day. Mummy stayed home. Daddy dressed up and carried a briefcase, leaving cheerily in the morning and returning cheerfully for dinner in the evening. Mummy dressed down, in an apron over something called a house-dress, and flat heeled, lace-up shoes, and shuttled mounds of laundry from washboard to clothesline to ironing board, made up beds and scrubbed floors, all while preparing, serving, and cleaning up after meals three times every day. After dinner Daddy read the newspaper in the living room while I helped Mummy wash and put away the dishes, pots, and pans.

I knew for sure that I didn’t want to be a housewife when I grew up. I was going to be one of the people who dressed up, carried a briefcase, and had fun all day. And read the newspaper in the evening. I would go to work!

I grew up and got the suits and the briefcase and enjoyed earning a paycheck. But then I lost my job at a very bad time in my life – I was drowning in personal grief, trauma, betrayal, and loneliness –and I needed a lifeline.

I realized that the reason my father had been happy all those years (he worked until past his ninetieth birthday) was that he had work that he loved. He helped lots of people, that was what he did, and it made him happy.

So I stepped out into the darkness, off the edge of a cliff, into a graduate study program that I couldn’t afford, because it was the only route I could see that led to a reason to get up every morning, to go on living.

I became a healer of people, a helper, like my father. I am not very good at housework, as a visit to my home readily shows, but I love getting up in the morning to get to work. My work saves my life every day. And there’s nothing wrong, and everything right, about it!

Right Livelihood. The Buddha taught that it is one of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path to peace, wisdom, and bliss. I have found it to be true for me.