Saturday, November 22, 2008

Good Quakers are Retired

This morning, Peter suggested we call a landscaping company to see about raking up our leaves. Now, our yard is pretty small, but the leaves haven't shown any signs of raking themselves up, any more than the yard has tidied itself of fallen branches in the last few weeks, or the fence gate repaired itself. His suggestion is a practical one, and, if we're not rolling in dough, still, we probably could swing it.

But it feels wrong, so very wrong. What about simplicity? What about being close to the earth? Shouldn't I at least want to get out there in the bright light of morning, put in my couple of hours of yardwork, and bask in the glow of homeowner satisfaction?

I said as much to Peter.

"Good Quakers don't hire someone else to rake their lawns!" I said to him. "Good Pagans don't hire someone else to take care of their yards!"

"Good Quakers are retired," he observed. "and good Pagans are students."

Damn. He has a point.

We used to do these things. I remember being out there in that yard, mulching in the compost I'd made into container gardens for tomatoes and green peppers. I remember splitting my own stovewood in Vermont, for that matter, and feeling the better for it.

I remember having time for community, for walks in the woods, for lingering over a journal in a cafe, too. Where did the time for that go? Into teaching. Into fifty-five and sixty hour work weeks with the need to grade papers during the weekends. (If we just had the weekends, I often think.) I know that plenty of people think teachers work from 8:00 to 3:30 and that's it, but I can't help that. For neither Peter nor me is teaching a mere "full-time" job, and those summers off are really just comp time for the extra hours we put in during the school year.

Teaching school is only hard if you're doing it right, perhaps.

One question Peter and I have been asking ourselves a lot recently is whether jobs like ours are incompatible with being a Quaker--or a Pagan. How is it possible to live simply when each night sees us falling into bed exhausted, with scant time for ourselves, let alone community, friendships, committees?

If God had a leading for me today, how quickly could I act on it?

When we heard about my mom's accident, it took us eight hours of flat-out, full-bore preparation and arrangements to get the car out of the driveway and on our way to the hospital.

That was a bit disconcerting. As emergency response time goes, it sucked.

Our lives are anything but simple, anything but free. But surely the work we do is worthwhile. I know I am doing it well. I can feel it making a difference--feel the change it makes in the world, palpably on some days. Not many people can say that.

And yet, and yet... it is so hard to stay rooted in community. It is so hard to have a life in the body. It is so hard to make time for Spirit.

Peter's words are shocking and they're funny and they have a painful grain of truth embedded within them, like the cutting grain of sand at the heart of the pearl:

Good Quakers are retired. Good Pagans are students.

What this is saying about religion, work, and the hard job of discernment is anybody's guess. We're just asking the questions around here.

7 comments:

Graeme K Talboys said...

Ah. But students learn best by doing. (Or you could whistle for a strong wind to blow the leaves away).

Liz Opp said...

Cat: We hire a neighborhood guy to rake our leaves, cut our grass, and sometimes shovel our walks. That said, the man is so inexpensive that we pay him what we think he's worth, not what he asks for.

It started, I think, when my partner went back to school and we couldn't work together in the yard anymore. I started to get resentful about it, and then the neighborhood guy shows up, asking if we need any yard work. How could we say No?

In some ways, we also have helped him through some tough times by giving him a listening ear or by helping him find other work when hard times hit.

As the money gets tighter, though, we will have to reconsider how we are spending it...

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Tom Smith said...

As a retired school teacher, I fully appreciate the sentiment. I have often thought of myself, and others have made similar comments, as a perpetual student, which is one of the reasons I love to teach.

In the late 60's Indiana YM (FUM) had proposed a minute "repudiating" the name of Quaker for the "Quaker Action Group" for aiding the "enemy" in North Vietnam. A special session of the Yearly Meeting was called to address the concern. A group of IYM Friends, including myself, chose to hold a series of informational meetings on Saturdays and Sundays in various locations throughout the YM to present the "Quaker" view of peace making and the teachings of Jesus as in "Love your enemy." I was a new teacher who had just been promoted to Science Dept. Head of a High School. I had a new son and a wonderful wife that I needed and wanted to be with on those rare "spare" moments of a teacher. However, I went with the group on a number of times. We often had some outside IYM Friends come to assist in sharing their experiences. One of those who came was Sam Levering.

I asked Sam what more I could do, since I felt I wasn't doing "enough" to contribute to the group. I will never forget his intensity and sincerity when he spoke to me. I do not recall his words exactly, but I remember well "where the words came from." He said that I should do what had been given to me, trust in my efforts and in God's work among others. He basically said that my teaching, parenting, loving relationships, and other aspects of my daily life were what really mattered. The fact that there were times that I could share in the "larger" Friends work was important but that my major "doing of God's will" was to use the gifts given to me in my daily relationships.

I didn't and haven't lost the feeling of "not being able to do enough." However, Sam's words of encouragement gave me, (most of the time?), more acceptance of the importance of daily life in doing God's will. I much too often have thought of doing God's will as attending to "greater" matters, but often have found by comments from individuals that in many ways my carrying out everyday responsibilities have had as much if not more of an impact on others than some of my "special" efforts.

I also found that even John Woolman spent most of his time tending his property, teaching school, and being with his family.

Being retired has not necessarily brought more energy or financial freedom, and, in some ways, has brought more frustration that I am not able to do "more."

Riverwolf, said...

I deal with some of these very questions and choices, too. As far as yard work goes, we've come to the conclusion that we'll do what we enjoy ourselves--the gardening, flowers and even raking. But the mowing, we hire someone. It's a big yard anyway and would seriously take up a quite a bit of time that we'd rather spend on other activities. I've thought about tilling up most of the yard and expanding the garden--and then reality sets in that this would require more time for maintenance. So we're setting limits, acknowledging skills and also helping support the wider community by hiring this yard guy, who we've also hired to grind up stumps from a fallen tree and various other odd jobs.

Sometimes simplicity and being close to the earth means one thing, and sometimes I think it means something else entirely. But don't quote me on that!

Jennifer Marchman said...

We also have someone who mows our yard, and I have housekeeping help twice a month. For our family, this *is* 'simplicity' since my husband works very long hours, and the extra help has staved off deep postpartum depression for me (been there done that). We have the opportunity to spend time together as a family now and attend Meeting! And we are contributing to the livelihood of others in our local community. I breathe a prayer of thanks every time they come, and I tell them frequently that I am so glad for their help. I don't believe simplicity automatically equates DIY. I think you can feel fine about asking and paying for outside help in any area of your life.

Paul L said...

You say: "Good Quakers don't hire someone else to rake their lawns!" Why not?

Don't Good Quakers hire someone else to teach their children in school? Should Quaker parents feel guilty for not teaching their children themselves while they work full-time -- as leaf-rakers, perhaps?

There is nothing wrong, and a lot right, with free-flowing economic activity and a division of labor. Everybody needs work, and if you did everything yourself, what would the leaf-raker do?

I don't think you mean to suggest that there is anything inherently undignified with raking someone else's leaves, but feeling angst about not doing it yourself implies that there's something wrong with asking and paying someone else to do the work for you.

It isn't like you're cocercing anyone to do the work. I'm sure you'd pay a fair wage for the help ("fair" being what the worker will accept). Maybe the leaf-raker needs the money for college; or for food; or some other essential activity. Or maybe the raker is a retired office worker and loves the opportunity to be outdoors in the fall, performing honest labor. Who knows? And why should it matter?

I realize that the thrust of your concern is more one of balance, that you do want to rake your own leaves but don't have time because of the necessities of your paid work; and in wanting to stay available for new callings, and all that. That is an important concern and problem, of course. But it shouldn't be confused with guilt about being part of an interdependent economic community.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Thank you all for your reminders: simplicity, like most things of worth in life, is not a one-size-fits-all concept. And it seems to me I do confuse my inborn New-Englander's work ethic with the real job of discernment, making it much more about "shoulding on myself" than about listening to my guide!

Still, I am concerned at the ways that the livlihood I've chosen seems to take up so much of my life. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be teaching right now... but I wonder how faithful I am in the rest of my time management? Wouldn't raking my leaves be more nourishing to my spirit than email, videos, and computer games?

Maybe.

But maybe not. Maybe I can just lighten up a little, do less and guilt less... but listen for that guiding voice a little more.

Thanks, all. Blessings!

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