We All Have Jobs to Do: Choosing to Matter

a supermarket self-checkout area
Image by pinadd / CC BY

It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

-Confucious

*

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

*

“Page!” Skyspook says. It’s a whip to my ears.

I pop to. Shove my damn phone into a coat pocket.

He points to the end of the grocery belt. I gotta bag.

“Shit,” I say. “Sorry, sorry. Shit.”

Slide past him, sheepish.

I’ve nearly missed my at-bat as grocery bagger, brooding over my phone. There are people in line behind us. It’s rude to dawdle. He hates it when people do that. I’m not much of a fan either. But it hurts worse to disappoint him.

He smiles. “It’s okay,” he says, beginning to scan.

And incredibly, I believe him. I never believe him when he says it’s going to be okay.

The rhythm of sorting it all into bags soothes me. Making up stories in my head as to why things belong together. Some of it practical, some of it arbitrary. We’re the cardboard gang, this is our turf! 

“I’m trying to solve a problem,” I tell Skyspook when we get to the parking lot. “I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional first aid. The best way to teach it. Especially if there’s a technological disruption, and we all have to fend for ourselves. It sounds crazy, but well… apparently the world has decided to be crazy.”

“Mmmhmm,” he says. And I don’t know if he heard me. But I don’t know if it matters.

I Know Why the Reverse Canary Sings

That’s been the hardest part this past month — not knowing if anything I’m doing matters, that feeling that I’m “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” (as my friend Max put it).

“It all just makes me wonder: Should I descend into hedonism because the world is burning?” I asked my friend Z. “Or try to save it?”

“A little from column A. A little from column B,” Z answered.

I laughed. “I have a lot of weird fucking guilt because I made this commitment to write a blog post every day and finish my book, and I’m doing it, but it makes me feel selfish. Because who cares about my stupid writing? The world is burning. Or about to.”

And Z, the most jaded fuck I know, with no compelling reason to tell me this, replied, “No, it’s important because you’re sharing your voice, which right now a lot of people need to hear, so they know they aren’t alone.”

As I wrote in Canaries:

There are people in this world who hate to complain about a person or situation, and when they do, you can be sure you are getting the kindest, gentlest version possible. Pay attention to them. These people are canaries. Just like the ones the coal miners would use to detect poison gas before descending.

Z is a kind of reverse canary of mine. He likes to argue. He’s not a hopeful fellow, not by a long shot. And charm? Absolutely not his thing. But he’s smart in the ways that I’m not. If he sees hope in a situation, then it’s there. And if he’s encouraging, it means something.

What You’re Doing Matters, We Matter

I’m here to tell you that what you’re doing matters, too.

Nope, stop it. Don’t argue.

It matters. It does. It fucking does.

We all have jobs to do.

*

As Robert Fulghum writes:

Everything looks better at a distance. If you made it up, you have to live it down. Everything is compost. There is no they—only us. It’s a mistake to believe everything you think. You can get used to anything. Sometimes things are just as bad as they seem. It helps if you always have somebody to kiss goodnight.”

*

“What was your favorite thing that happened this week?” I ask Skyspook.

We’re eating burgers. The onion twists obscenely with the flavor of the meat as I bite down.

“This week?” he says. “That’s tough. It was a shitty week. Work was brutal. We both had the flu.”‘

“Well,” I say. “For me, it was the moment last night when we were going to bed.”

He leans forward. “Oh?”

“I was so cold, and I was shaking. And I just had nothing left in my body. And somehow you realized. You just reached across the bed and pulled me to you.”

He smiles. “Awww.”

“I can put up with the rest,” I say. “Thanks for saving me.”

 

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