Saturday, October 07, 2006

The coming days

In the coming days of automation, where people might work, say 10-20 hours a week, man, for the first time will be forced to deal with the true spiritual problems of living.
- sample from a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song

But you know how it all works, how the small actions add up. And you now see how you can start to stack them up differently. The helpful suggestion upward, not made. The confidential memo leaked downward, or out. The book recommended to an inquiring student. No longer on the curriculum, but you might find it interesting - a different angle. The conversational concessions withdrawn. The conventional civility dropped. The hard stare back, the harder line held. The slack not cut. Elsewhere, the warmer smile. The word of encouragement. The grant approved. The link forwarded. The cartoon tacked up. The dues paid. The paper bought, the extra coin passed, the minute spent in friendly chat before you hurry for the train. The firm nod to your own kid's tentative query.
- from The Early Days of a Better Nation

For several weeks, these two quotes have been bouncing around my head. A change in me was pointed out by a co-worker that he'd observed over the last year or so. An ambition, beyond simple determination, but with an edge...no, with a ruthlessness that at times has almost become a ruthlessness with relish and a kind of arrogance for those who couldn't 'cut' it or didn't 'get' it. A disconnect with humanity.
Ultimately a lack of compassion.

Much of this tendency is nuture, though I do have a rather plain spoken personality, by nature. I come from a walk it off family, where showing the slightest sign of weakness or pain is an open invitation to let the attacks begin. Interestingly enough, I find myself in the exact same environment at work. Coincidence? I think not. I have a thick skin, but that skin has continued to develop layers, especially after finally deciding to engage in the struggle and kick, scratch and bite back until it's become both armor and weapon, it seems. It has earned me admiration and acceptance amongst the group as a whole, but it's come at a price that I don't necessarily think is worth it. When I worked in the office, and broke my leg - an injury requiring several hours of surgery, metal and months on crutches - the only day of work I missed was the day of the surgery. Last January, when I split my knee open, I was at work the next day; one of our busiest Saturdays of the winter. The guys love me because I'm tough and respect me because I'm a harsh opponent.

Last night, they offered to give me the night off if I wanted. My first response was that staying home wasn't going to bring anyone back to life. My boss saw some hesitation and told me to think about it and things came together in my mind in such a way that they've not before: it's good to push yourself, but I doubt I'll ever rest on my laurels, there's too much to experience to simply up and stop. BUT...but there's a time to take a rest, to cut some slack, to accept a helping hand without shame and without condition. A measure of grace. And how can I expect to find my way back to compassion if I don't start accepting it? With that in mind, I folded my apron, thanked my boss and came home. I didn't do much [observe the previous entry]: stared at the walls alot, made my bed, looked at old pics and cried. Took solace and quiet breaths.

What made me realize I'd made exactly the right choice was coming home during Friday rush hour as people were flooding through the Powell St BART station and finding myself caught behind a woman moving slowly and aimlessly on the stairs. She wasn't in tourist mode, in fact she seemed very, very SF, a gal on her way home from work. I felt a flush of irritation and frustration. "WTF, lady, we have a protocol here." [that was inside voice, btw - I'm not a complete dick, though I did make the WTF hands] but something in her posture caught me. A familiar tight heave in her shoulders. She was crying. I doubt many people wander crowded subways crying on a busy Friday evening, and suddenly her slow gait was no longer an inconvenience or imposition. I could feel her hurt and I hurt with her, in turn. All irritation, gone. I paused to catch her eye at the turnstile. It was a momentary exchange - "Are you ok?" A nod, a rueful flicker of a smile from her in response and then the crowds filled in as we passed through and we were gone. I hope she found her solace last night as well.

When I got home, I had my iTunes on random and 'The Russians' by Sting came on. From the first time I heard this song these lines caught me.

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is that the Russians love their children too

It's not about politics with me, and it's certainly no longer about the Russians, but it is a powerful reminder of just how many ways we do breathe the same air and hurt and love and lose. Universally. That active empathy and compassion and gentleness require more strength and skill than beating each other to the prize and the punchline...or simply beating each other up. Things I knew a long time ago, but perhaps had stray from so I could understand why it's so important to come in from the cold and much better by the campfire.

As for the first quote, I don't know what post debt life holds. The implications and possibilities boggle my mind, but I want to think that the constant nose to the grindstone, constant fear of not being able to pay all of the bills, the profound discomfort of having one's life dictated by something as stunting and excluding as debt will end. I don't want to return to mutiple jobs, unless I'm pulled in directions that excite me. I'm not sure that I'll ever want to return to full time. On the other hand, perhaps I will, but only under the right conditions. I'm looking forward to being in a situation where the qualities I admire and aspire to are not liabilities.

Standing on the corner of Stockton and Geary last night, amid the rush and thrill of people, not feeling the need to navigate the crowd sharply with the singular focus of reaching the MUNI stop and praying the MUNI would actually show the f*ck up in some sort of timely manner, hoping that we weren't unaccountably delayed somewhere else along the way, not calculating connections, not thinking about the kitchen or whose ego I'd have to massage to make things ok or appease a table. Or, even, not standing there at half past midnight, tired and wired and counting contentment but the number of dollars I'd made that night and wanting to be as far away from the madding crowds as I can get. In that moment, it became clear that in my self absorbed determination and focus, I've missed out on a hell of a lot of life just trying to catch up.

Yes, it's served a purpose, and in senses has been entirely worth it. I know that many are much more driven than I but I'm not them and I'vebarely played by the rules as it is. Sometimes, in some areas, enough actually is enough and less is far more. I'm looking forward to catching up and slowing down. Grappling, or sometimes not, with the true spiritual problems of living and relearning the art of seeing people before I react based on a calculated intent. Of being still, but not always because I'm too aching to move. Fireflies. Family. Whisky slushies. Laughter that's not forced and silences that are easy. And a silly little dog named Sofie.

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