Tuesday, August 07, 2007

All This Sweet Work

Overwhelmed by gratitude. To be able to stand in the kitchen with somebody and just talk -- I'm so grateful. How, I wonder, did I come to this?

Ha. I didn't. I didn't come to this: I've always lived here. Always this hungry, always this uncertain, always overwhelmed by the need to make connection. I needn't go constructing histories about it. I was born this way -- born anxious, isolated, and full of love.

I have lived in this place all my life. So that to have someone want to show me her garden, how it's prospered over the summer, fills me with wonder and delight.

Brocolli reaching skyward, young corn with its green banners hung on its outward walls, herbs hugging the ground. She pulled aside foliage to show me green pepper hidden in a tangle of of stalks and leaves.

What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

My mind goes there, of course: the habit of forty years. And driving home, I thought of how it's burdened all my life, not just my intimate relationships. My relationships, in fact, have suffered least from it: I have so much love welling up that having some spill is no disaster. It's my work that's suffered, because I never put my full attention on it. Work can be love too -- it has to be, if it's to be good work -- but I didn't understand that. I kept looking for obvious, indisputable love, the sort of love television and movies teach us to recognize and value -- desire and swooning infatuation. The love of a pepper, growing secretly, the love of getting a spreadsheet formula exactly right, the love of listening for the breath, with my fingers, to be able to time leaning into the ribs with an exhalation, -- for so long I attended to many of those things carelessly, if at all, relying on talent rather than concentration.

Faith uses a lovely, old-fashioned phrase: "honoring the intent of the giver." She uses it, for example, when we're in doubt about exactly which financial bucket a gift is supposed to land it. It's a stock phrase in fundraising finance, no doubt, but to me it sums up my Library Foundation work; it's the beginning and end of what we're about.

When Merris was interviewing me, she asked me, in a rather roundabout way, whether I would be bothered by the tawdriness of plotting and planning just how to hit people up for money. I said no, emphatically. We're opening a space for their generosity, I said. We're helping them see their connection with the community. And that's how I think of it. People want to give; they want to connect. Our job is to honor that and nurture that. Kids who would have grown up illiterate really are learning to read because of the money given us. Old people really are getting books delivered to nursing homes because of it. Those kind of connections are harder to see in the world of mass production, but they're no less there, and no less real, than dropping a bit of meat in a beggar's bowl.

What is all this sweet work worth? Enough. The kisses will look after themselves.

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