The candle that lights the others

I’ve been stewing in my own juices lately over this whole question of work — how exactly do I envision my life, and how do I know if my vision is lousy or wholly unrealistic?  Am I drawn to what draws me because it is “right” for me, or is it just history, degrees, pathology?  When I ask my facebook friends what I should do, they all mention my handcrafts — which I believe has to mean something.  But I have lived a life of teaching.  I have BEEN, I like to think, I have been told, the candle that lights the others.  I love that work.  I want to do more of it.

We all have activities we enjoy and goals we pursue and ways of being that feed us.  Vocation, we are told, is “the place where your own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Buechner); it is also “the thing you can’t not do” (Godwin). But I am a slippery fish: I learned early to do and not do what worked for those around me, and to be more or less happy with that.  I am like Kingsolver’s character Ada in “Poisonwood Bible”: I can make anything fit anywhere.  I recognize that I HAVE deep gladness, and of course I realize that the world has many deep hungers, but I find many fields where the two cross paths.  This infuriates me and gives me hope.

What seems ultimately clear to me, though, is that I take pleasure in facilitating learning or inspiration.  I love helping people to see what they could not before.  Heck, I even love when someone ELSE does that.  Last week, we were at a local festival of artisans and craftspeople, and I fell into conversation with a fiber artist in a mixed-media gallery.  As we talked more, and as I mentioned my husband’s photography, she realized who he was, and she turned to him, full of light: Oh! You do those layered images!  You had one here (she points to a corner of the wall), it was beautiful.  It inspired me.  And then followed a technical conversation about how he achieves this effect and what she has tried so far. I could not have been more pleased.  And it had nothing to do with me.

So: back to teaching? Back to the work of empowering college students to engage in their communities for better learning and positive social change? Back to influencing the flow of money toward bold innovation that promises solutions to intractable problems?  What do you do? How does it light you up, or help you light up others?

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