To be of use

I love the Marge Piercy poem “To Be of Use”

In all of this lockdown quarantine life, I am left feeling stir crazy. I am busy. I channel my energy, which is very high, into work. It’s why I love teaching. My energy is called on. Long ago when we were still in school (has it been a week? two? a millenia?) someone saw me at the photocopier at 7:57 and said, “Whoa, you have way too much energy for before 8 am.”

I’d been up since 5 am that day. Making hay while the sun shines–figuratively because it was dark in my apartment as I did some creative work of my own in the silence of my apartment.

That’s just me. That’s who I am. My 9th grade history teacher, a pretty wretched woman if you ask me, kept asking me all year if I’d been “tested.” Wink, wink. ADD. Hyperactive. I do not have ADHD, I am just wired to burn one click below a supernova. I exaggerate.

So, I chose a profession that keeps me busy, that wants and needs and appreciates my 8 am energy.

Being a work-at-home homeschooler is NOT what I was built for. I need to be doing stuff, and not just banging away at my keyboard. I need to be moving, creating, interacting.

So, when I got a frantic text from an American friend in her condo that they were being flown back and had 3 hours to pack, I switched on. Instead of my energy being sent as rage at the throw pillows that my kids keep throwing on the floors, or the dirty socks they hide behind furniture, I could do something. I went straight to her apartment and asked how I could help. Sometimes people say they don’t need help and you aren’t sure what to do. But there were real things I could do.

In addition to adopting Chester the bunny, I started taking pictures of all her furniture. She had hoped to have time to post things and sell them. Now, she was packing a few suitcases and leaving it all behind.

I started a list. I pulled things out of closets and piled things up. We cleaned out kitchen cabinets. We stacked up library books that needed to be returned.

Here was a way to be of use. To move stuff, to think, to move, to talk. I made a spreadsheet, set prices. I sent out items. I helped friends carry their purchased furniture to their apartments. We bagged up garbage and recycling. We bagged up clothing donations.

There are many hard things about social distancing, lock down, quarantine. One of the hardest is not being able to venture out into the world and move stuff and make myself useful. It doesn’t feel the same to send a kid a video or type a comment, as when I sit next to them with their writing and provide feedback. It’s not the same to answer an email as it is to point at a raised hand.

I considered being a doctor in college. Took all my premed classes during the first year. I think about the parallel life where I was a doctor now. Now that would give me a sense of usefulness. And it doesn’t scare me to imagine working in healthcare right now. I think I’d savor it.

So what happens after that is done? Should I ask the gardeners if I can help mow the lawn? Paint our bedrooms? I need to find tiny ways to be useful, to move things forward in some way, in some tangible, physical way.

[Y’all, I’m wiped out. I just made 2 videos and updated links and made Flipgrids, so I had no time to even re-read this. Forgive any typos or thoughts that went a-wandering.]

Leave a Reply