A number of years ago, a friend of mine was going through a bad breakup (turns out most breakups are bad in some way; people don’t usually break up if things are going well…but I digress). At the time, I was working for her out of her house. I showed up assuming we would work on some administrative tasks we had planned, but neither of us could really focus. So we watched Zoolander instead.
At one point in the movie, she turned to me and said, “You know, I get caught up in thinking I have to be doing work with people, or we are just wasting time.”
“I know that about you,” I replied. “That’s why I started working for you. I wanted to be friends.” See what I did there? I was as subtle back then as I am now.
“But R keeps trying to tell me that really being with people, right in their stuff, is the work. That it’s the important part.”
“He is right about that.”
“I needed to be watching Zoolander. This is The Work.”
Several ladies at the Jewish preschool daycare center where I worked shortly after moving to Cleveland used to tell me I was a “balaboosta.” I liked it then; I like it even more now. I’m growing into it as a major part of my identity. For those of you like me who don’t speak yiddish, a balaboosta is a woman who makes her home and her life a safe and welcoming space for those around her. In prefeminist terms, it meant a sort of super-housewife, who can pull off dinner for 20 at the drop of a hat without mussing her pearls or starched apron. Believe me when I tell you this is not me (well, maybe the dinner part). But underneath the pearls and the endless laundry and vacuuming is the idea that really being with people and creating space for them to really be with each other is The Work.
One of my favorite things about being married to J is that he really, really gets this about me. He understands that my plan to bring dinner to a friend in the hospital is not ancillary to my day; it is a small outpouring of me doing what I feel in my bones that I’m on the planet to do.
I doubt I’ll make much of a career out of it. I have yet to find a university that offers a master’s degree in having a friend over for coffee, or in watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because that is the best way to be present with someone in a particular moment (doing The Work is not always about talking). Sometimes I think it sounds silly to describe such simple gestures as my calling in life. But I think when it sounds silly to me, it’s really because I am underestimating the usefulness and value of meaningful emotional connection.