It’s Monday, the start of another work week, and I’ve been thinking about how COVID-19 has altered the way we do our job. After three months of working differently, many of us are reassessing our relationship with work. How do we want to work going forward? What do we value most about what we do? What kind of people do we want to work with? Poet, novelist, and social activist Marge Piercy offers an interesting perspective on the topic. See what you think.
To be of use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
What images or phrases struck you in this poem?
Some questions to reflect on:
- What do you value most about your work? Why do you do the work you do? Simon Sinek claims that understanding our “Why” is critical for success. See video clip below.
- What kind of people do you want to work with, and what life lessons can you learn from the others?
- If you’re “retired,” what does this poem bring up for you?
“To be of use” by Marge Piercy. The Art of Blessing the Day, 1999.Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.
Photo: Greek terra-cotta amphora. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.