It seems a strange thing to say in a day and age when everyone seems to be griping about finding their true purpose. The hue and cry is to fulfill yourself; be all that you can be; go for the gusto… but much of humanity never get that opportunity. Many of our fellow humans live lives of desperation, of poverty, of subsistence all the while we are malcontented with conditions that they would consider the estate of kings and princes.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
— John Milton, 1674
It’s been a while since I’ve picked up John Milton. In years gone by I was a fan but in recent years I’ve let his words grow faint. So it was in an odd sort of way that his sonnet, “When I consider how my light is spent” came to mind.
You know, not everyone wants to live in the limelight. Not everyone is comfortable there. The world needs lawyers and doctors and teachers but the world also needs assembly line workers and trash collectors. Electricians and masons and plumbers and appliance servicemen have their place alongside salesmen and pharmacists and street performers. This is a very big world, and there is room in it for all sorts, for all types, for all colors, for all accents, for all ethnicities, for all orientations.
I was talking with someone the other day who was having a hard time finding their place in the world. As a guy with a lot of self-direction I can’t say I am always very receptive to what can sound like whining to my ears but I tried harder this time to hear what was being said and I was reminded and humbled by looking across the room at my sweetheart who for 48+ years has been my constant and abiding cheering section. She has put up with all my strange and seemingly half-baked ideas, has encouraged me forward, and has laughed and cried along with me depending on whether things worked out well, or not. In her I have always known the reality of those serving who only stand and wait.
She’s not one to pursue fame or notoriety; but she has a place and she owns that place — she’s comfortable there — not being in the light but being nearby. And I was caused to wonder how often dissatisfaction with what our life offers us really begins when we don’t see what it is that our life is actually doing: we don’t recognize how our support lifts others, we don’t acknowledge how our smile makes the difference in someone else’s day, we are unaware of the fact that we don’t have to do or say anything — that we have that effect just by being who we are.
Sure — Milton was speaking of a time when servants were more common; when butlers butled, and maids served, and footmen helped on into the carriage, and cooks plucked chickens and cut the throats of tomorrow’s lamb chops. Not all were Lords and Ladies. There wasn’t much of a middle class. People had a place in life and rarely did they transcend from one class to another or descend from one to the depths of society.
You know… we all have our stories. They don’t have to be epic to be great stories. They just have to be told with integrity. I was lucky, growing up, to be around a lot of immigrant old people. I never got much chance to spend around young folks; it seemed to me that I was always around people with wrinkly skin and who spoke broken English. But I learned a few things from them. They all had their stories, they were all willing to share parts of their stories, and they were all proud of what they had been through. Many of those immigrants had left family and friends behind in the Old Country. Many of them only made it here to America because someone had come before them, and saved enough money to send them a ticket and a few spare coins so they could make the trip themselves. Almost all of them had been farmers and carpenters and cooks and nursery maids. They weren’t grand, they weren’t titled but they laughed as hard as anyone I’ve ever known and they loved as truly as ever love was.
We have so much now — in 2017 — and we think we need all those things that we have, or that we see others having. And I don’t know whether we realize that others like us lived for centuries with none of the niceties of our lives. They lived and built companies and families — yea, they built nations and struggled with the ideas of truth and justice and how to be more human — and they did good because what they put in place is what our country is all about today. What we have and what we are is because of honest men and women who lived in a simpler time and did their best to leave behind a legacy that their family would be proud of.
I suppose it’s easy to have self doubts — I myself am not as prone to them as others — but I understand the reasons it happens. But I know too that sometimes our dissatisfaction with our own lives can be because we fail to see how our lives impact others. We fail to see the good that we do; we fail to see the right that we uphold just by being ourselves.
I’m proud of my sweetheart. She’s never wanted the praise and adulation of man. She knows what she does well and she has always seemed to be content in who she is. We try to share the mutual support of one another but I know — deep down inside — that my burden has been much lighter than hers; she has been there to encourage me on more often than I have had to do the same for her — maybe because I keep coming up with hair brain ideas — but that’s just the peace that we have made between ourselves. Just as every couple makes a sort of peace between themselves.
Thanks for stopping. I’ll be here again tomorrow. Why not stop and say hi!