This is The Work.

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.

Advertisements

Necessary Fun

Goodbye, 31. I will not miss you when you leave tomorrow.

To be frank, you were kind of an asshole. It’s not your fault, really. I know that. But the past year was long, and while clicking over to another number in my age obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, there is a certain relief in turning the page on everything that happened. Too much sickness. Too much anxiety. Too much cancer. Too much death. Just…too much.

I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to throw a party. I love cooking for people (I get that from my mom who is a beautiful cook), and have ever since I learned to put together simple recipes. In college there were friends who would just randomly show up at our apartment if they thought I was home and ask me to feed them something. The Jewish ladies at the preschool where I worked before E was born used to call me a “balabusta”.

So, it’s not a new thing in my life to be gathering groups of people together. What’s new is how it feels now. Until the past year, I mostly loved having people around just for the joy of it. A couple of us would decide to do something and invite whomever we could think of who would enjoy that thing and our company. Even if it was just taking pictures of each other in silly poses (we used to call it “performance sculpture”) in the flower section at Walmart, we knew how to have a good time.

The past year, the push to gather people together has taken on an aspect of needing to huddle together for a bit in a storm. Instead of just being so taken up with the fun of things that I can’t help but invite people along, I find myself going into a gathering thinking of how much every single person I know is dealing with. The First World does a tolerable job for a while of disguising that fact that life is hard. But all the smartphone apps in the Google Store can’t disguise the fact that people get cancer. They have miscarriages. Marriages are threatened. People need transplants, or they die suddenly of heart attacks or strokes. They have crises of faith and of identity.

And I’m continually struck by how brave it is to come, with all of your Stuff, to be with others. I know how much courage that can take sometimes, because even extroverts get overrun by their thoughts sometimes (contrary to what you’ll read on some of the more absurd “23 signs you’re an introvert” Facebook lists–but I digress).

So we gather. We invite a few friends so that all the pressure isn’t on one person to Show Up. We laugh, we cry, sometimes we talk about our Stuff, sometimes we talk about the price of tomatoes at the market or how to keep our kids from pooping on the carpet so much during potty training. And it’s fun. The fact that people Have Stuff doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their company, but informs and enriches it. To be human is to Have Stuff (sometimes this is uncharitably called “crazy”); to have a really great friend is to have a sufficiently safe space to show enough of your crazy that maybe you can eventually let a bit of it go.

Life is hard and confusing, and we are all doing our best. But in doing life together, the group lends a sense of respite, strength, and safety that can help prepare us to face what we must.

It’s fun, I promise. But Important Fun. Necessary Fun.

 

“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 

wpid-Rest.jpg