27 Sep 2013
To Be of Use: Autumn 2013
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.
Marge Piercy’s poem came up in my Labor Day reflections, then stayed with me as a riff on Autumn—as shifting light and shifting life. Autumn-of-life schedules create a change in the shape of work yet the love and will to ‘jump into work head first’ create space for many kinds of work: occasions ‘to be of use’ in a new season with ‘sure strokes’ of its own.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
The emerging elderhood movement in the US is profiled in the member organizations of the Conscious Aging Alliance of which Gray Is Green is a part. For me, this movement suggests the possibility for elders ‘to become natives of that element’ of authentic ecological living, immersing ourselves in an ocean of possibilities on behalf of future generations—and for our own well-being.
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 muck to move things forward,
Who do what has to be done, again and again.
Perhaps you join me in feeling harnessed to a life of moving things forward, requiring ‘massive patience’ to do ‘what has to be done, again and again’ and in appreciating moments of inspiration.
Sources of inspiration
In a video produced by Center for a New American Dream, Gus Speth, activist and grandfather, delivers an inspirational message. He introduces the video this way: “I have six grandchildren, ages one though nine, and all I can think about is the world they will be inheriting. Right now, our beloved country is headed for a place I would not want for them. Thankfully, there is an America the Possible: the place we truly want for our children and for ourselves —focused on simple living, community pride, and good citizenship.”
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 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.
No parlor general is Speth.
Another of that ilk is Bill McKibben, who recently described how elders act like elders in climate activism in this short, worthy read re-posted at Gray Is Green.
And one more: Richard Feinberg inspires the will to make decades of consumer experience be of use in pursuing true happiness! Get in touch with your post-consumer-self while reading Feinberg’s The Brief Tragic Reign of Consumerism and the Birth of a Happy Alternative . This is a lengthy, yet worthwhile piece; note the handy Printer Friendly link above the headline to the right.
And speaking of happiness, support local artists whose music evokes ecological consciousness: remember to sing and dance, even if simply tapping fingers or humming along! In the Boulder, CO, area, look for singer-songwriter Laurie Dameron and in New England look for Cheryl Wheeler or Jim Scott.
Who’s playing your environmental tune?
This is my Autumn 2013 to-do list from these inspirations:
- Embrace one new sustainability practice at home selected from great ideas at NRDC’s This Green Life —make it stick between now and the end of the year. All the while think: this is me pursuing happiness!
- Keep up with climate advocacy opportunities at 350.org and support–or become a local elder activist.
- Contact city hall—the police or public safety department is a good bet—to be sure there is a plan to participate in the October 26, 2013, National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in my community. Think: This is a first step for America the Possible.
- Support a musical event presented by a local, ecologically conscious musician; have an afternoon or evening of music and comraderie, while generating hope for the future.
Marge Piercy concludes this way:
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.
What is the common-as-mud work of the world now?
What is the work that is real at this stage of life?
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